Coffee fellowship time is from 8:30-10:00 AM in The Atrium, between the Youth Center and Music Suite 9:00 AM - Worship in Maresh Fellowship Hall 9:50 AM - Sunday School for all ages 11:00 AM - Worship in the Sanctuary
Coffee fellowship time is from 8:30-10:00 AM in the Atrium, between the Choir Suite and Youth Center 9:00 AM - Worship in Maresh Fellowship Hall 9:50 AM - Sunday School for all ages 11:00 AM - Worship in the Sanctuary
Saturday, July 4th, referring to the Unanimous Declaration of Independence when we were a Christian nation in contrast to the recent trend.
The figure above indicates the proportion of US adult residents who identify as Christians has decreased 13 percentage points from 78% in 2007 to 65% in 2019 while the proportion of religiously unaffiliated increased by 10 percentage points from 16% to 26%. The religiously unaffiliated residents, also known as “nones”, are comprised of adults who describe their religious identity as ”nothing in particular” (17% in 2019), agnostic (5%), or atheist (4%). I’m concerned about America’s trend going from a clearly Christian nation at its foundation as indicated in the Unanimous Declaration of Independence with references to:
· Separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them
· Commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.
I hope each of you reading this is concerned as well.
In Psalm 14:1-7, King David states his adverse reactions to Israelites who say “there is no God”. The King starts with calling them fools using Hebrew words denoting their “nones” as morally deficient. Furthermore, King David indicates that their “nones” are all corrupt and there are none of them seeking God nor does any one of them do any good things. Also, they are overwhelmed with dread of God who is in the company of the righteous. All of this is bad news like America has been experiencing over the past decade. But King David closes on the bright side looking forward to the day that our Lord will restore his people out of captivity so Jacob will rejoice and Israel will be glad!
Psalm 14: 1-7
New International Version (NIV)
1 The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God. 3 All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
4 Do all these evildoers know nothing?
They devour my people as though eating bread;
they never call on the Lord. 5 But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is present in the company of the righteous. 6 You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.
7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending upon one’s point of view (I think it’s fortunate) since America separates government from church and religion, individual citizens of the USA cannot arrest or convict other citizens as nones due to their religious beliefs. Fortunately, however, the Pew Research Center survey asked nones why they were religiously unaffiliated. As a result, we can we pick a legal and Christian position to take in an attempt to convince nones that affiliating with a Christian church can add considerable joy to one’s life on earth and for all eternity thereafter (John 3: 16).
The first two columns of the table below show the top reasons nones gave as the most important reasons they were unaffiliated with any religious organization and the percentages who gave each reason. The third column contains the ideas which came to my mind as potential responses to each of the nones’ reasons. The ideas I’ve expressed above were significantly influenced by devotionals and essays written by Dr. Jim Denison for the DenisonForum.org. I highlighted the closing of one of the most pertinent articles (Protestants no longer the majority in the U.S., October 10, 2012): “God …is using news such as the Pew report to warn his people that business as usual will not reach our culture. And he is burdening more Christians to pray fervently for spiritual awakening in our nation. Will you join us?” In many articles like this, Dr. Denison is prone to indicating how important it is to speak “… the truth in love, so we will, in all things, grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
For me that is not particularly easy. The key for me to overcome my difficulties in such situations is to pray requesting help from the Holy Spirit. This thinking calls for me to recognize “… that the future is open to us and that there is power that goes with us we cannot control. The spirit is a reminder of the forces of life beyond our control but at the same time within our grasp. The spirit, if harnessed correctly, becomes the wind at your back. It’s the breath that shapes the kind words that lift your spirits on a bad day. It’s the fire that brings warmth, courage, and renewal.”… So …If it feels like you’re alone, just breathe.” (Extracted from Garrett’s sermon on May 31, 2020).
Reasons nones are unaffiliated
How I may respond
I question a lot of religious teachings
Different Christian churches teach different beliefs. Woodland includes anyone who accepts Jesus as Lord. Other churches may not accept members from a LGBTQ community. The New Braunfels Unitarian Universalist Church is intentionally more inclusive towards bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people.
I don’t like the positions churches take on social/political issues
Woodland generally doesn’t take on political issues but other churches may take different positions e.g. the 1st Baptist Church of Dallas pastor endorsed Trump while Max Lucado said he wouldn’t let Trump date his daughter.
I don’t like religious organizations
God loves everyone even nones. If you tried enough churches you would find at least one that you like.
I don’t believe in God
I suspect atheists don’t really believe there is no God they believe they are God.
Religion is irrelevant to me
So you think immorality is irrelevant to you as long you can get away with it.
I don’t like religious leaders
Most religious leaders love God because God first loved them. There are some religious leaders in San Antonio that I don’t like but I love all members of Woodland especially the leaders.
St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Friday, July 3
By Kim Moore
I will exalt you, Lord for you lifted me out of the depth and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit.
Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
David could say these things because he had experienced them many, many times. Throughout his life as a shepherd, harpist, giant slayer, warrior, leader, outlaw, king, adulterer and ‘family man’, David had leaned on the Lord time and again to help him. And the Lord always came through.
David’s many ‘death defying’ experiences served to entrench his relationship with the Lord who saved him each time. His was not a casual ‘love’ for the Lord but one that was felt in the most personal way humanly possible. David would never forget how many times he was in need of help, in despair, and how, each time, the Lord heard his prayers, listened to his laments, sat with him and saved him.
David’s experiences that he shared with the Lord strangely remind me of rope. The rope is really an ingenious invention. It’s just multiple strands of fiber woven together so that the composite ends up being stronger than each individual strand. They’re twisted in one direction to make braids which can be twisted in the opposite direction to make larger braids and so on.
The real strength of the rope is not just in the number of strands it has or of the weight it takes to break it, as in ‘tensile strength’. It’s more in the ‘working load’ which assumes the rope may be knotted, distorted, compressed, bent around itself or something else so that the working load is a small fraction of the tensile strength.
That’s sort of the way relationships are. The individual strands represent the different dimensions or experiences in a relationship. The more strands, the stronger the relationship. And in the twists and turns of life, where it’s not always clean and neat, we get distorted, compressed, bent around situations and the working load of some relationships grow stronger.
War veterans, who have been on the battlefield, talk of foxhole experiences. “He was not just my buddy; he saved my life. I was wounded and couldn’t move. He came back to the field and risked his life to carry me to safety. I will never forget what he did for me. He is an amazing person; I owe him my life.”
The quiet comfort of a good friend can make some life events bearable. “When my mother was dying, way too early, and I was trying to deal with the stress of everyday life, grieving, you stopped your life and came to spend it with me. You left your kids and your husband and you sat and cried with me, listened to me, got food for me. I am so grateful for you. And I will never forget what you did.”
That’s what David seems to be saying. And, when he says ‘. . . His anger is but for a moment but his favor is for a lifetime’, it feels to me he is saying “I really want you to know Him. He is so amazing. Look at what He’s done for me. You just can’t imagine how low and how near gone I was. But now those times seem like distant memories. He picked me up, healed me and helped me truly live again.”
Bonded relationships start with one experience at a time. If you live next door to someone, that’s one dimension. You may be really good neighbors and share some happy events together. But it’s still just a one-dimensional relationship.
Maybe you also go to the same church. And maybe you’ve served on several committees together. Now the relationship has more dimensions.
So, maybe you’re also about the same age as your ‘neighbor’ and you both have kids that grew up together. And two of those kids played basketball together . . . for maybe 4+ years. There are a lot of experiences that you share through those years. Traveling tournaments. Great wins. Tough losses. Injuries. Personality conflicts. Emotions.
All combined, some are personal, some are spiritual. Some are fun and some are funny. Some exhausting. Some even frustrating.
Maybe you take family trips together. Snow skiing. Beach trips. Family cruise. Hunting trips. Cook outs.
As the relationship gains more depth, it’s likely there will be some painful times shared. Financial struggles. Job loss. Personal life tragedies.
Suppose your spouse contracts cancer. Your ‘neighbor’ ends up becoming the chauffeur to your kids, spends time bringing meals, visiting the hospital, communicating with friends, coordinating food. Spending time just to be ‘there’.
And eventually helping write the obituary. Your ‘neighbor’ is the one who stays at the house after the funeral when everyone has left. And is the one that keeps showing up long after.
Your kids grow up and move away and eventually are in each other’s weddings. And your ‘neighbor’ speaks at your daughter’s rehearsal dinner.
Over time, this ‘neighbor’ has become a part of you. Like a rope, you’re braided together into one friendship that becomes unlike any other, special and forever. At some point, there’s not a lot that could separate you. Certainly not politics, religion or money.
We need these types of relationships with the depth and strength and bonds that cannot be broken. This ‘pandemic’ and economic uncertainty will certainly be an experience that we won’t soon forget. And life continues to happen through this as well. The help that each of us can provide to others will never be forgotten. And it can serve to strengthen our relationships in ways that only shared trials can do.
God gives us relationship opportunities and life experiences through which to test and build them. But they take time. Our relationship with God, just like with our closest friends, takes a lifetime to fully cultivate. But they can each be rich and rewarding at every stage from beginning to end. This was a reminder to me to take time to dwell on and celebrate the relationships in my life and to continue to be willing to let them grow.
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!” Robert Browning
St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Thursday, July 2
By Lisa Shinkins
On a very hot day in August, my hero died. The hero that I went fishing with and just had a great time laughing with as well as attempting to play golf with when we would play together. Many of you were not privileged to know and love my Dad. He was the “ultimate caregiver” for all of his friends. But he was my Dad! I don’t remember everything about the night he died because it was so sudden – he had a heart attack at a wedding reception. But what I do remember is that after dancing with me, he told me “ I need to sit down, sister – I love you.” Then that was the last thing my Dad ever said. He had a major heart attack – August 4, 2001 – my life changed forever as well as my family’s life.
I cannot tell you much about the events in August and September of 2001, but I can tell you that I did a lot of crying out to God, like David did in Psalm 86. In verse 6 – 7, it says: “ Listen closely to my prayer, O God. Hear my urgent cry. I will call to you whenever trouble strikes, and you will help me.” Trouble had struck me then. I did not know which way to turn, but I called on God so many times that first year and the years that followed. Do you know that this Psalm is filled with fifteen requests to God by David? This Psalm is broken into four basic parts where David cries out to God, his Father – out of need, out of deliberate praise, to teach him God’s ways, and to ask for mercy and grace. That sounds like what we all do at different times in our lives.
For me, after Dad died I cried out to God out of need. He sent me family and fra-mily (people who are not family by blood but you consider them family) to help me through each stage of my grief cycle. I still to this day on some levels grieve the loss of my Dad – he never got to meet Kieran, my husband or my two sons – Killian and Kevin or to see where life has taken me over these last nineteen years.
But even through my Dad’s death, I cried out in deliberate praise. In verses 8 to 10 David is doing just that: “Where among the heathen gods is there a god like you? Where are their miracles? All the nations—and you made each one—will come and bow before you, Lord, and praise your great and holy name. For you are great and do great miracles. You alone are God.”
You see that summer he passed was a truly magnificent summer. Mom (Carol Hagler) and Dad spent a magical summer in Key Largo due to my Dad’s job in Miami. They were able to spend quality time together alone. And on the night my Dad died, he was dancing, laughing, and having a great time with his family. I have to be honest here, it took a very long time to get to this praise.
I prayed and prayed and God led me where I am now. Verses 11 to 13 say: “Tell me where you want me to go and I will go there. May every fiber of my being unite in reverence to your name. With all my heart I will praise you. I will give glory to your name forever, for you love me so much! You are constantly so kind! You have rescued me from deepest hell.” He led me out of the depths of despair to be able to praise Him to then become who I am today through learning from my despair and my praise. God is leading us through where He wants us to go, so that we may praise Him more.
As an ex-educator of fifteen years, I know in those teachable moments there is so much growth that can come from learning something new each day. How wonderful it is to stop and not take for granted what God is teaching us through this time? What is he teaching you through this time?
I believe during this time of uncertainty and the constant change that we are all calling out to God and asking Him where He wants us to go; so that we may praise Him. During difficult times in our lives, sometimes it seems hard to do just that. But my encouragement through this Psalm is that David did just that. He cried out for God’s mercy and grace in verses 14 to 17: “O God, proud and insolent men defy me; violent, godless men are trying to kill me. But you are merciful and gentle, Lord, slow in getting angry, full of constant loving-kindness and of truth; so look down in pity and grant strength to your servant and save me. Send me a sign of your favor. When those who hate me see it, they will lose face because you help and comfort me.” We have someone who is ALWAYS there that we can call on in our time of need.
As I read this Psalm, it made me think of one of my favorite verses, Psalm 18:6: “I cried out to the Lord and He heard me!” God hears us when we cry out in need, in anger, and in praise. He never gets tired of us coming before Him in prayer to cry out to Him – EVER!
Last summer, I heard this Vacation Bible School Song: “Every Good Thing” from the ROAR vbs and I loved it. As I read this Psalm, this song came into my mind and I wanted to share it with you. I hope that it will give you some encouragement to get through the coming days.
St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Wednesday, July 1
By Mary Nichols
Psalm 130 A song of ascents. 1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; 2 Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. 3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you. 5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning. 7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption. 8 He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
This psalm begins with the writer calling out to God from “the depths”, a deep chasm of human suffering. This abyss can be different shapes, but each of us have or will have some experience with it. Grief, sickness, depression, abuse, coronavirus anxiety and despair can throw us in the depths.
The psalmist doesn’t cry to God in abandonment, but with hope and expectation that God will hear his voice for mercy. He is not calling out to a God of vengeance, but a God who loves, forgives and redeems. This psalm reminds us that we can be confident that we are not condemned to this abyss and trust God to listen to our cries. We can wait and hope with expectation for redemption. With God there is mercy, forgiveness and unfailing love.
In Garrett’s sermon ‘A Certain Man Had Two Sons’ on June 21, he stated, “The good news for us is that despair is where God places the seeds of hope.” As human beings we can fall into the depths of despair where hope may not be readily visible. But, the seeds of hope are already growing there. We can trust and find hope even in the abyss.
Let us wait for the Lord with hope and expectancy with our whole being.
Let us put our hope in His word.
May our Woodland Family put our hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love.
St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Tuesday, June 30
By Lynn Teel
A Psalm of David – Psalm 138
1 Thank you! Everything in me says “Thank you!” Angels listen as I sing my thanks.
2 I kneel in worship facing your holy temple and say it again: “Thank you!” Thank you for your love, thank you for your faithfulness; Most holy is your name, most holy is your Word.
3 The moment I called out, you stepped in; you made my life large with strength.
4 When they hear what you have to say, God, all earth’s kings will say “Thank you.”
5 They’ll sing of what you’ve done: “How great the glory of God!”
6 And here’s why: God, high above, sees far below; no matter the distance, he knows everything about us.
7 When I walk into the thick of trouble, keep me alive in the angry turmoil. With one hand strike my foes. With your other hand save me.
8 Finish what you started in me, God. Your love is eternal – don’t quit on me now.
I remember when I was a young teenage girl full of spit and vinegar and a tomboy at heart. As one of four children, I wasn’t always the apple of my father’s eye or the bright spot in the lives of my other siblings. I loved horses, but who owns a horse in Richardson, TX that lives in a middle-class family neighborhood? But, one day my father gave me a horse! Can you imagine the surprise and gratitude and thankfulness that I expressed to my father?
When I read verse one this experience is what I think about as I relate to this verse. I can hear the words “thank you” coming from every fiber of David’s soul. And, the “thank you” is so loud and strong that even the Angels listen. In my life I have found that when I express such gratitude and thanks to God that I am filled with the strength of God which is far beyond the strength in me without Him.
I think all of us would agree that our world (in the big world sense) and our world (in the personal smaller world sense) has been challenged and shocked to its core. I read, that 2020 needs a time-out and a do-over. I am prone to some level of fear and worry, but when I express my gratitude and thanks to God I find peace knowing that He sees and has a hand in both the large and the small.
I am currently reading a book titled “My Boy, Ben: A Story of Love, Loss and Grace” written by David Wheaton. It is a true story of Wheaton’s close relationship with his yellow Lab named Ben. If you love dogs as I do and don’t mind shedding a few tears; then, I encourage you to read it. The book isn’t just a dog story, but a story about God, as well. Wheaton, and as today’s verses tell us, says that God see from afar into the infinitesimal and that God is always there to give us the “big” graces and the “infinitesimal” graces according to His time. When we are right with God, how can we not shout as David did “Thank you! Everything in me says “Thank you!”
We have much to fear and much to cause concern in our lives. And, there is much to cause us to rethink and recalibrate how we treat our fellow man in the days ahead. But, Psalm 138 tells me that I need to hold on to gratitude for all the big and small that God does for me and for us. With a clearer head and heart, I can more easily walk with the assurance that God is with me and will finish what He started in me. After all, I am still a work in progress.
A Time of Reflection
Physicians advise us to stop, pause, and take a deep breath. Are you doing so? Are you finding peace within the turmoil? Are you saying “thank you” for all of the big and small graces given to you by our Lord and Savior?
If not, why not?
A Prayer for our Souls
While I do not know the author of this prayer, I do find that it aligns with the spirit of Psalm 138 and ask that you join me in the reading of these words.
Dear Father God, I come before You with a grateful heart for the many blessing that You bestow on us day by day, and praise You that Your mercies are new every morning and You have provided for all our needs, and more besides. You are a great and generous God.
You are so good to all Your creation and have faithfully supplied all our needs, according to Your riches and grace, just as You have promised.
I love that hymn where it says, “count your blessings, see what God has done,” and Father, I do count the many blessings that come from You day by day. Please forgive me for the times when I take for granted the many gifts and graces that come from You. I could not draw another breath unless You give me the strength, and yet moment by moment, I am being kept in Your love and sustained by Your grace. Praise Your glorious name, for ever and ever,
St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Sunday, June 28
By: Carol Hagler
Psalm 73 first caught my attention on a chilly November Saturday morning in 1989, as I studied the Sunday school lesson for the following day. Having found and read several other verses suggested for the lesson, I read Psalm 73:26.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart. And my portion forever.
“What?” I thought, “This doesn’t ‘fit’ with the other verses I have just read.” Sure enough – my error—right verse; wrong chapter! Or was it? I had fumbled my way into the perfect verse for my circumstances on that morning. My physical body (my flesh) and my mental, emotional, spiritual state (my heart) seemed to be failing in a spectacular way. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and on the following Wednesday was scheduled for a mastectomy. In one word, the psalmist reminded me of the path to hope, confidence, peace. He said, “but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” I clung to that verse repeating it over and over as I was rolled into the surgical suite on November 15. I have repeated it and found comfort in it in other crises that I have faced.
Much later I studied the rest of Psalm 73. Most often attributed to Asaph, a temple choir leader, Psalm 73 begins with a strong theological statement of God’s goodness. 1. Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
However, Asaph soon experiences a crisis of faith – he “almost stumbles, nearly slips” (NKJ) as he observes the health, wealth and apathy toward God of the “wicked.” He speaks to me of my own experiences in times of personal problems and in times such as this when our country faces multiple cultural problems – COVID19, racial inequity, economic difficulties.
2– 3 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of thewicked.
His doubts and complaints are not without basis in reality, but he seems to be aware that his attitudes regarding these disparities do not reflect “his best self”.
4-12 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters of abundance. They say “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” This is what the wicked are like – always carefree, they increase in wealth.
Faced with this picture of the easy life of the wicked, Asaph questions the benefit of his own devotion to God’s principles in view of his earthy circumstances compared to those of the prosperous.
13-16 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. If I had said, ”I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me
And then an epiphany!
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.
Entering the temple sanctuary and feeling the presence of the Lord, Asaph realizes that “the wicked” are only one step away from earthly ruin and more importantly, eternal separation from God.
18-20 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.
Then, he confesses and grieves his envy and doubts.
21-22 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.
(I think we Baptists call that conviction…)
He restates his trust in God’s love and goodness – no matter his circumstances. He acknowledges God’s constant presence and guidance. He asserts that the grace and mercy of God is better than anything on earth and that he looks forward to what God has planned for him for eternity.
23-28 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.
I have come a long way from that November morning in 1989. There have been missteps and backslidings, but my heart still sings Asaph’s song of gratitude and praise.
“It is good to be near God.”
The Sovereign Lord is always a present refuge.
Thanks be to God.
A contemporary rendering of some of the thoughts of Asaph were introduced to the choir a couple of months ago by Randy Edwards. The composer, Robert Sterling, also finds solace and hope (and a bit of attitude adjustment) in God’s sanctuary.
Listen to the message of his song, “Church.” May we all be able “to go to church” soon.
St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Saturday, June 27 By: Joel Kirn
Psalm 25 New International Version (NIV)
Psalm 25 Of David. 1 In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust. 2 I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me. 3 No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause. 4 Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths. 5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long. 6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old. 7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good. 8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. 9 He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way. 10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. 11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great. 12 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.[b] 13 They will spend their days in prosperity,
and their descendants will inherit the land. 14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them. 15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
for only he will release my feet from the snare. 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted. 17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
and free me from my anguish. 18 Look on my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins. 19 See how numerous are my enemies
and how fiercely they hate me! 20 Guard my life and rescue me;
do not let me be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you. 21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope, Lord, is in you. 22 Deliver Israel, O God,
from all their troubles!
I first read through this Psalm by David in college and was struck by three things; actually, really four but the fourth I’ll leave you to consider. Penitence, however, is the first theme. Three times he asks for forgiveness from sin and acknowledges his own state as a sinner including a reference in verse to “sins of my youth and rebellious ways,” which may have been why it struck me over 30 years ago and continues to speak now for in my heart I am ever the rebel. The second was and still is God as teacher. This theme is also repeated three times in verses 4, 8 and 10. The third major theme is how affliction and oppression from both outside sources and inward anguish are interwoven with the writer’s sin. Wrapping these ideas together while looking at our ourselves as seen through the lens of this writing shows the writer and us to be our own worst enemies. And yet, even as David surveys the land and finds himself despised; he is not alone. Here, in the midst of the Valley of Death, his hope is in the Lord.
Might this have been penned during David’s being driven from Jerusalem by his son, Absolem, when David, while he is running away is even cursed by a supporter of Saul and chased by those he once considered friends and allies? If there was ever a time for despair this was it: when a civil war within both country and family is brewing and David knows his own handling of Absolem, starting with the rape of Absolem’s sister by another of David’s sons then David’s silence as Absolem first took revenge and then filled the leadership vacuum left by his father’s continued silence led to this moment. We won’t know for sure until we can ask him but what we do know is even in despair and in the face personal failing, David turns to and relies on God, firmly believing God will ultimately protect him. His belief was not in vain. Scripture tells us David was eventually restored to the throne though not without struggle and personal pain. That may be our path as well, but we too can be restored.
How old was David when he wrote this?
Does the Psalm speak to you in some way that brings moments to mind?
Are there painful moments where you know your own mistakes and sins have created rifts between you, God and others, and for which you have not repented?
Have you, like David, acknowledged both your own sin and God’s sovereignty?
The fourth observation, and you be the judge… We are, even as lay persons, to consider scripture through the eyes of both faith and criticism. I’m personally not sure the last verse wasn’t added later. To me, it doesn’t fit with the very personal themes expressed in the Psalm and even the language in the various versions I’ve read doesn’t have the same lilt. What do you think?
St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Friday, June 26, 2020 A Psalm about Creation
By Ray Cook Furr
1O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. 3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; 4what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? 5Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. 6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, 7all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 9O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
When you read this psalm, you are immediately reminded of the creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2.There is an excitement that lifts you to another plane of life. We have all been there. I experienced it when I flew over the vast Grand Canyon for the first time. I was in awe when I went diving on the Great Barrier Reef and came face to face with the most unusual and amazing marine life. I gasped for air when I stood on a tall rock at Pikes Peak and gazed over the massive Rocky Mountains. I felt it again when Grayson Hanchey shared in his devotional a picture of an unmapped star that he and his Grandpa photographed through a telescope.
So when the psalmist says 1O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! We know exactly what he is saying. I can imagine him sitting under the stars in the desert somewhere in Israel. Imagine what he would have thought if he had ever seen the beauty of the snow-covered Swiss Alps. He had not experienced the great Arctic icebergs floating in the northern icy waters. He may have seen part of the Great Rift Valley that runs from Lebanon to Mozambique in Southeast Africa.
The Psalmist is in a state of worship and he wants us to join him. This passage is the basis for two of my favorite songs. The great hymn, How Great Thou Art, and a Michael Smith praise song, O Lord, Our Lord How Majestic is Your Name in all the Earth. I remember the first time I sung these songs. I was at a Billy Graham Crusade in Baton Rouge, La. The stadium was packed and we sang How Great Thou Art as one large, joyful congregation. Everyone was singing at the top of their voices. I didn’t want the song to end but when it did, a large, elderly man precisely expressed my sentiment, “I feel like popping my suspenders and going to heaven.”
I experienced the other song when I went as a chaperone to Lynchburg, Va. on a weekend retreat for the state’s middle schoolers. When the music started, the kids who already knew the song jumped up singing and dancing:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. O Lord, we praise your name. O Lord, we magnify your name; Prince of Peace, mighty God; O Lord God Almighty
By the third pass, I had it down and joined with them at the risk of embarrassing my son. What a wonderful worship experience.
But, like the Psalmist, when I think about the majesty of God and the wonder of this massive creation, I am also drawn to the question—who am I in all of this? Why does the almighty Creator care about me? How can the Lord God of the ages know me? From the cradle to the grave, my existence is so small. I feel like I am a single grain in a 100,000 acre wheat field. It’s impossible to look into the vast expanse of space or gaze across the earthly seas and not ask “Why do you love me Lord?” Then the Psalmist reminds me that the Lord has made us in God’s image, just a little lower than God and given us the responsibility of overseeing (dominion) and tending this extravagant creation. But what does dominion mean?
I was fishing in a tank near Winters, TX after a big rainstorm. I wasn’t catching any fish so I started scanning the ground. We were told the area was inhabitant by a large tribe of Native Americans. It wasn’t long before I found an arrowhead. I announced my discovery to my friends and they soon put down their fishing poles and joined me searching for arrowheads. We found all kinds of tools—hide scrapers, part of a tomahawk, and pieces of handmade utensils used by a tribe hundreds of years ago. As I reflect on that experience, it reminds me that we are not the first to walk the same paths and we won’t be the last. In Boy Scouts, we had a rule: “Leave the place you camped in better condition than when you arrived.” To have dominion is to take good care of God’s creation for those who come after us. After all, it’s not our creation.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889) was reflecting on God’s creation when he wrote God’s Grandeur:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Questions to Ponder
Take a moment to reflect on one of your most meaningful worship experiences. Where were you? What conditions and elements aided this experience? Were you with friends or family? Did they have the same experience?
Who am I that I was made in the image of God? I heard the great preacher/teacher Fred Craddock once say that he was tired of hearing people say “Well he or she is just human” when someone makes an error. For example a gymnast has made a perfect landing in all her meets, but when she takes an extra step in a competition to gain her balance someone in the audience will say; “She’s just human.” Or a wide receiver makes the same clutch catch without fail, but drops one in the end zone; “Well he is human.” Craddock said since we are created in God’s image, we should celebrate when we do well. When someone sings a beautiful song we should say “Well, after all, she is human.”Or a pitcher who throws a great game we should take “Yes, he is human.” We may be small and feel insignificant in this vast universe, but Jesus reminds us that we are created in the image of a God who knows us by our name and numbers every hair on our heads. Our very best reflects that we are created in a holy image and that’s something to celebrate.
God ordered us to be stewards of this wonderful creation. There will be generations who follow in our footsteps as we have followed our predecessors. What are you doing to ensure that we leave this earth better than you found it?
St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Thursday, June 25
By: Brad Dutton
A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life; 8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
When asked to write a devotional from the Psalms you might think: “Wow. 150 choices is a few to choose from in that book. How can you pick one?” I agree but considering what has been going on the selection was instantaneous for me: Psalm 121. Why? Well, mostly because I believe people of faith and those who may not have a faith they practice or practice frequently are wondering these days we are in: “Where can or will my help come from during all this?”
What I’d like to do for you in this devotional is share some of the things I’ve learned about Psalm 121 over the years and give some insight on why for me it has always been special but perhaps even more so in these times we find ourselves in now.
First, you will see this is listed as “A Song of Ascents.” I have been taught that this ascent was referring to the journey religious pilgrims took up to Jerusalem. I have never been there myself, but I am told it is an uphill hike and that the grade is not slight. I feel many of us today believe we are at a point in time that we are on an uphill journey.
The Psalm begins with: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (NIV) I find it interesting that during this many gods period in which this was written the hills or mountains where the places many believed the gods lived. In fact, it was common to find little shrines or shelters built to these different gods at these lofty places. I envision a “Food Court” of sorts where all the options are laid out for the seeker to choose from. But the psalmist quickly answers their own question and what I hear is: “My God is THE GOD. He is who made all we see and even things we can not see.”
The next two verses are interesting when you consider what people believed who worshiped other gods. These folks understood that just like humans the gods need rest and sleep to recharge. And the mention of both slumber and sleep is important. Sleeping would be what we document in medical records as LOC or loss of consciousness. This is a state in which we have no awareness of what is happening around us. Slumber on the other hand was more of simply tuning out or taking a break from things. I see slumber as those times my father has claimed: “I’m not asleep. I’m just resting my eyes.” Which sometimes was true, but there have been occasions that the sounds that followed indicated LOC.
Verses five and six talk to us about the Lord providing shade and protection from both the sun and moon. The moon? Yes, this is hard for us to understand, but the ancients believed the moon had some powers and that moonlight could harm you in certain situations. But the sun and shade thing is certainly something we can relate to in south Texas. But first, let’s not quickly skip over the mention of the right hand.
We have all heard the expression “right hand man.” One of the explanations of this which may give us more insight into why it was mentioned comes from ancient battle. Ancient soldiers where all trained to fight right handed—sorry lefties. But the left hand was important too since it carried a shield. So if you will take a ‘make believe moment’ with me and grab your sword in your right hand and hold your shield in you left hand you are ready for battle. But if you have your shield in your left hand how do you protect your right side? You can’t, but your battle buddy on your right side can help you with that problem, and that is how the fighting formation was organized.
But the protection from the sun and providing shade were then and still are now a big deal. Now that we are full into the summer heat the daily walk Edie and I take is strategically selected depending on one thing—shade. We have five different routes, but in the summer evenings only two provide significant shade and protection from the sun. It is a huge difference maker and we often comment about the difference in temperature walking 200 yards on shaded vs. unshaded pavement.
The final two verses for me are such a great promise and remind me of something we find many times in the Psalms. Strong, declarative language and statements. There is certainty in what is said not God “might” do this or “may” do that. Even though Psalm 121 is already extremely strong with only eight short verses, go back now and just read the first two and last two.
For me during what I lovingly refer to as “COVID Crazy,” the confidence of the psalmist found in Psalm 121 is a needed reminder that we are not on this journey alone. While we may feel little is certain in these days we navigate allow me to close with one thing I know is certain: God was with us before this pandemic, God is with us now during this pandemic and God will be there with us after this pandemic.
St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Wednesday, June 24
By: Lee Weems
Psalm 22 Living In Times of Struggle and Hope
Easy-to-Read Version (ERV) To the director: To the tune “The Deer of Dawn.” A song of David.
22 My God, my God, why have you left me?
You seem too far away to save me,
too far to hear my cries for help! 2 My God, I kept calling by day,
and I was not silent at night.
But you did not answer me. 3 God, you are the Holy One.
You sit as King upon the praises of Israel. 4 Our ancestors trusted you.
Yes, they trusted you, and you saved them. 5 They called to you for help and escaped their enemies.
They trusted you and were not disappointed! 6 But I feel like a worm, less than human!
People insult me and look down on me. 7 Everyone who sees me makes fun of me.
They shake their heads and stick out their tongues at me. 8 They say, “Call to the Lord for help.
Maybe he will save you.
If he likes you so much, surely he will rescue you!” 9 God, the truth is, you are the one who brought me into this world.
You made me feel safe while I was still at my mother’s breasts. 10 You have been my God since the day I was born.
I was thrown into your arms as I came from my mother’s womb. 11 So don’t leave me!
Trouble is near, and there is no one to help me. 12 My enemies surround me like angry bulls.
They are like the powerful bulls of Bashan, and they are all around me. 13 Their mouths are opened wide,
like a lion roaring and tearing at its prey. 14 My strength is gone,
like water poured out on the ground.
My bones have separated.
My courage is gone. 15 My mouth is as dry as a piece of baked pottery.
My tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth.
You have left me dying in the dust. 16 The “dogs” are all around me—
a pack of evil people has trapped me.
They have pierced my hands and feet. 17 I can see each one of my bones.
My enemies are looking at me;
they just keep staring. 18 They divide my clothes among themselves,
and they throw lots for what I am wearing. 19 Lord, don’t leave me!
You are my strength—hurry and help me! 20 Save me from the sword.
Save my precious life from these dogs. 21 Rescue me from the lion’s mouth.
Protect me from the horns of the bulls. 22 I will tell my people about you.
I will praise you in the great assembly. 23 Praise the Lord, all you who worship him!
Honor him, you descendants of Jacob!
Fear and respect him, all you people of Israel! 24 He does not ignore those who need help.
He does not hate them.
He does not turn away from them.
He listens when they cry for help. 25 Lord, because of you I offer praise in the great assembly.
In front of all these worshipers I will do all that I promised. 26 Poor people, come eat and be satisfied.
You who have come looking for the Lord, praise him!
May your hearts be happy forever. 27 May those in faraway countries remember the Lord and come back to him.
May those in distant lands worship him, 28 because the Lord is the King.
He rules all nations. 29 The people have eaten all they wanted
and bowed down to worship him.
Yes, everyone will bow down to him—
all who are on the way to the grave, unable to hold on to life. 30 Our descendants will serve him.
Those who are not yet born will be told about him. 31 Each generation will tell their children
about the good things the Lord has done.
From the cross, Jesus whispered this psalm. In a time of humiliation and pain, Jesus seems to quote a psalm from the depth of his soul. Both Matthew and Mark include the passage, “And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” from Psalm 22:1.
In the pilgrimage of faith, most of us can echo the feeling of abandonment and we also wonder “Where is God?” David is credited with this psalm of lament. Many other laments found throughout scripture ask the questions repeatedly, “Where are you, O Lord?” Sometimes the other questions of struggle and doubt might ask “Why, O God?”
David begins the psalm calling out the name of God. In Hebrew, David uses El and Elohim in the opening verses. This general name for God meaning Creator or Judge of the universe.
Psalm 22:1-2 we hear the internal battle on one who struggles with the sense of the absence of God. At times, I am envious of the person who seems to have it all together. I wonder, “Does this person really understand?” or “What did he or she do to get all the breaks?”
The emotional and physical impacts of feeling alienated are stated. From feeling like a worm to body aches and dry throat, we are affected holistically. Profound sadness and overwhelming pain make time seem unending. The long path stretches before us and our energy seems to stall out. To have courage to confess our deepest feeling begins the journey of living a deeper faith.
It is important to read the entire of Psalm 22 which portrays a fuller story for struggle and hope. Eventually David recalls struggling with the sense of the absence of God, the psalmist does speak of the caring God that others have known. David comments about others who seem to trust God despite difficult times.
In verses 8 and 19 David uses the intimate, personal name of God YAHWEH. David begins to express trust as he recalls his own life as well as the life of others.
In reading Psalm 22:22-31 we observe the transition in David’s life. He moves beyond the desperation through remembering the stories of others as well as his. Finally, David is able to express gratitude to God for caring and rescuing him. And the time will come when David passes on his story to help others going through struggle.
A Story of Two Tears
My friend looked down to the ground. In a quiet voice, my friend commented, “I battle depression. When the darkness closes in, I feel fear and confusion. No matter which way I look, it seems only blackness dwells. I sink deeper into the well of despair.”
A pause occurred as my friend had a tear flow from his eye. “I sometimes feel there is God does not care or there is no God. I realize my crashing waves of fear and pain.” The tear slowly trickled down.
Following another long pause, my friend broke the silence. “Sometimes, in the fearful time, I remind myself that feelings will not control my life. You know that Truth is greater than feelings. Yes, my feelings are real and ever changing. On the better days, I remember that God is and God loves.”
My friend looks into my eyes as another tear runs down his cheek. “The ebony night becomes grayer and then the light of Truth renews my hope for life. I still have powerful waves of emotions but the truth of God’s love and presence is my foundation in shifting sand.” A tear of joy and thankfulness glistens.
PAUSE FOR REFLECTION
Have you ever felt distant from God during a difficult time? What did you experience in both your thinking and feelings?
What helps you in difficult times to regain your balance?
Is there a person with whom you can share your struggles and allow that person to pray for you?
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
I guess it never occurred to me that after years of struggle, it would continue to be a struggle – keeping my mind stayed on thee. I thought it would be automatic by now. I guess I thought I would be . .. uh. . . habitually sanctified.
But I see, Lord, that it doesn’t work that way. For just as I begin to feel that I have made great progress in my spiritual journey, that I am really beginning to understand “things of the spirit,” I come instead to some dark night of the soul . . . and I cannot reach thee. My prayers seem no more than random words written on paper airplanes and thrown at the sky. I cannot reach thee, Lord. The feelings of peace and blessed surety for which I long are not there. I cannot grasp the Psalmist’s declaration that “thou are with me” – but cry instead with Elijah, “Oh, that I knew where I might find thee!”
So that’s the way it is, Lord? – always a struggle? Always alternating between the brilliance of midday-and groping in the dark?
The only surety I have is there will be these dark nights of the soul-and there will be, as there have been, the times of close and personal experience of thy presence. Ah so, Lord. This is thy way.
Help me remember, in my times of groping, that the way will be clear . . . for awhile.
And in my times of blessed surety, that thou are Mystery, and there will again be time when the way is dark.
Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me – Bless his holy name.
Plum Jelly and Stained Glass & Other Prayers (5th Printing) by Jo Carr & Imogene Sorley, Nashville: Abingdon, 1973.