God Has Our Best Interest

More than anything, it’s people that have tried to persuade me that God cannot be relied up to help us.

“What if God doesn’t heal?
What if God doesn’t provide?
What if God doesn’t come through?
Does God really act on our behalf?
Is God really involved in our lives and does he care?
Will God really look after me?”

Psalm 16–the writer–is saying…YES! He says,

‘I always put the LORD in front of me; I will not stumble because he is on my right side. You teach me the way of life. In your presence is total celebration. Beautiful things are always in your right hand.’

Psalms 16:8,11

John Goldingay says,

The psalm knows that if you want to enjoy a full life in this world, you are wise to look to the God who devised this bodily life for us…I am confident that I will be OK, not because I secretly turn to other deities but because I do rely on Yahweh, the one who guides me, the one whose voice I heed in the darkness of night when some people might secretly look in other directions.

Psalms For Everyone, John Goldingay

As a chaplain, I’ve received the calls and heard the stories:

“Chap, I got cancer.
I need surgery.
I had a stroke.
I got covid and hospitalized with a 10% chance of surviving.
I lost my job and they’re gonna foreclose on my house.
My mother died. She was my rock.
My marriage is ending. She had an affair.
I didn’t achieve the dreams and goals I made for myself.
I don’t know what to do with my life.”

These are painful realities. There are no quick fixes. I have noticed a difference in responses and reactions from people though. People who have faith in a God who is with them seem to have a deeper hope and resiliency. They are able to share their anguish and sorrow but the story doesn’t stop there. They say things like,

“Whatever happens, I’ll be ok.
I’m in God’s hands.
I’ve done what I can.
The rest is not up to me.
I’m praying for peace, joy, and hope in the midst of this trial.
I can still love others.”

These conversations happen in the hospital room, hospice, or in someone’s living room. They’re obscure places, hidden, in solitude. They smile and gently squeeze my hands, assuring ME that they’re going to be ok. There is a lightness in the room, a sense that whatever fear or worry they’ve had, it’s been shared with Jesus and He is assisting in carrying the cross with them.

The Psalmist is calling us to look to the God who is the creator of life as we go through our own journeys. As Christ followers, we make a decision every day to respond to God’s presence in our lives. We pray, we listen, we act on behalf of His good purposes. We make time to meditate on the wisdom tradition passed down to us. We learn to know the rhythms of grace and to foster an awareness of when God is speaking and leading. And when God does “show up”, He shows out.

To follow Jesus is to enter into the fullness of life NOW. Psalm 16 reminds us to show up to our lives and to be attentive to God’s presence as the One who loves us and shepherds us into the fullness of joy.

Dealing with Uncertainty

Psalm 18 is a “testimony” spoken word. In my childhood church, we’d have a midweek service and part of it involved the “brothers and sisters”, los Hermanos y Hermanas, sharing how God had been good. People talked about being healed. Others would share about how they were struggling but that God helped them get through the difficulties. I always admired hearing the stories. It was uplifting and encouraging. If God did it for them, He might just do it for me.

Psalm 18 starts by testifying to WHO God is:

1He said: I love you, LORD, my strength.2The LORD is my solid rock,my fortress, my rescuer.My God is my rock—I take refuge in him!—he’s my shield,my salvation’s strength,my place of safety.

This morning, as I was waking up, I took a moment to prayerfully listen before I got up. The phrase that came to my mind and heart was, “My Grounding Presence”. It turned into a prayer: “Lord, you are my Grounding Presence. Lord, you ground me when things feel uncertain and scary.” For David, God was a rock, a rescuer. For me, God is the Rock that becomes my Grounding Presence in times of uncertainty.

The writer goes on to say:

‘Because he is praiseworthy, I cried out to the LORD , and I was saved from my enemies. In my distress I cried out to the LORD ; I called to my God for help. God heard my voice from his temple; I called to him for help, and my call reached his ears.

Psalms 18:3,6

I love how John Goldingay puts it:

The psalm functions to encourage the whole community to turn to Yahweh as one who can be our refuge and fortress…So the psalm can go on to give a testimony to God’s rescue. It gives a dramatic picture of God’s acting. It was so extraordinary that it was as if God had swooped down dramatically from the heavens.

Goldingay, John. Psalms for Everyone, Part 1: Psalms 1-72 (Old Testament for Everyone) (p. 57).

We have felt so many threats these last two years: pandemic, school shutdowns, political wars, US vs THEM outbreaks (vax vs unvaxxed, what’s the truth). There seems to be so much uncertainty that causes distress. Who can you trust? What can you trust?

In the midst of it all, I cry out like the Psalmist: “Save us from the enemy of distortion, power grabbing, greed. Save us from ourselves.”

So what do we do in times of uncertainty? We cry out to God and pray to be rescued. We share our distress in hopes that God will act on our behalf according to His will–his loving, gracious, and redemptive will. We turn to our spiritual community and listen to how God is acting on other’s behalf as well, being encouraged that if He does it for them, He’ll do it for us.

Lord, we cry out to you in our distress. Be our grounding presence, our rock and refuge, in our times of trouble. Heal where there is sickness and disease. Restore where this is lack. Provide your peace and rest for the anxious and brokenhearted. According to your loving kindness, hear our prayers and act on our behalf. Amen

Psalm 119 is Special

“Those who guard God’s laws are truly happy! They seek God with all their hearts. I keep your word close, in my heart, so that I won’t sin against you.” Psalms 119:2,11

Psalm 119 is special. It hits different. I love the practical wisdom it offers, and it comes from someone who is aware of the ebbs and flows of life. I remember reading this psalm in my teens and twenties, often praying that I’d be like this person, inspired to meditate on the sacred book and be influenced by it.

John Goldingay, in his brilliant Psalms for Everyone Commentary, says:

First, the psalm teaches, adhering to God’s rules is the way of blessing. Things go well in your life. You can hold your head high. You can expect God to be with you and not finally abandon you…

Sometimes you have to live in light of the way you believe things will work out in the long run.

The psalm can speak of people who have done no wrong in relation to these laws, which shows that they are not setting an impossibly high standard. The Ten Commandments illustrate the point. It’s not so esoteric, though it may be difficult in that other people are worshiping other gods and making images and working 24/7 and having affairs. The question is whether we want to do so. The psalm encourages us to keep reminding ourselves that being desirous of living by God’s rules is worthwhile.

Goldingay, John. Psalms for Everyone, Part 2: Psalms 73-15 (Old Testament for Everyone) (p. 144).

I’ve had a good life so far and I believe it’s in part because I’ve made a commitment to follow Christ the King. I’ve wanted to. I’ve seen the payoff to living by God’s decrees and wisdom. I love how Goldingay says that it’s not so impossible to live by the 10 commandments. It may become difficult when others don’t live by them. I’ve seen the pain and hurt of affairs, murder, and stealing. All it takes is one person to act out and it’s felt in the community.

And I love how the Psalmist pronounces a blessing as we seek God with all our heart. While we may have difficulties in our life and journey, seeking God and doing his will come with a blessing that as we keep God’s decrees, we will experience an unspeakable joy and peace. We also never be left to fend for ourselves. It’s a lie and distortion of God’s wisdom that we’re something happy accidents, living this life completely on our own and by our own efforts. There is a God who loves this world and every single aspect of it, moving hearts and minds. He is an Involved God, not distant or disinterested.

Lord, grant us the heart and willingness to listen and to obey your decrees, which are nothing more than expressions of the purest form of love for you and for others.

Morning Meditation 6.10.2020

Yoke of slavery.  I don’t like using that S word for obvious reasons.  Maybe a truer expression is to be controlled, oppressed.  A yoke of being controlled, manipulated, or made to do something out of threat.  

In all four passages for today’s liturgical readings, there is a whiff of being controlled or manipulated to be someone who goes against your inner fibers.  The people who put in the work to do scripture mashups (which is basically what the liturgy is) had some brilliance.  

In one passage, there is an oppressive, controlling ruler who takes over a city.  He does so by force and many ill words.  But an old man who is quiet and full of wisdom delivers the city.  

As the passages continue, a mashup theme is getting revealed.  The Christ figure says to be mindful of who is teaching you and what they’re teaching.  The disciples are being warned about a group of religious leaders who slant their teachings in a way that distorts God’s true image, which ultimately distorts how we view ourselves and others.  

Paul says to be mindful of “who is confusing you”.  To be confused is to have two or more ideas that are trying to get mingled together.  But they don’t go together.  

A strong Ruler who oppresses // a wise, quiet old man who delivers

Religious leaders who distort God’s image for personal gain // Christ and the Cross

A life devoid of communal awareness // Community relationships inspiring freedom

In a culture of words, pithy statements, broadstroke posts and arguments, God is calling us to slow down and listen.  To be contemplative in a time of crisis is to be communal with Christ and community.  

Father, Son, Spirit, may you guide us into truth-making, wisdom that delivers us and others from oppression and confusion. Make things clear for us. We’re not always the best thinkers and doers. Your words and deeds, Lord Jesus, become our way of defining truth and reality. Amen.