Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Manna For Today: Psalm 31

Psalm 31:1-24
Key Verses: 24
“All you who wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage.”
Right now we are waiting, staying at home, being still, not going anywhere, waiting. As we wait it is easy to become anxious, to become agitated. It is easy to let our boredom get the best of us, cause us to do things that are not wise, to allow us to turn to fear, or desperation; cause us to hoard what we don’t need and to acquire things that are not in our own best interest. As we wait for God to bring redemption to our loneliness, and solitude, and find our hope God and the things of God. Let us not resort to fear, or desperation, but instead let us be strong. As we rest in the Lord, let us find strength in God and in the ways we reach out to one another. Let us courageously be at home, but continue to find ways to build relationship with those who live with us, as well as those who do not. Be strong; let your heart take courage, because we know God is at work. God is and will continue to bring goodness, wholeness and healing to us and to our world.

Thing to Think on
Find one way to be strong today.
Go for a walk.
Reach out (while social distancing) to a friend.
Write in your journal about how you are feeling. Tell God about your fears. Allow God to fill you with courage.
Take time today to send a note (in the actual mail with an actual stamp) to someone who might need encouragement today.

A Prayer for Today
Oh Lord, God. Staying home is hard, slowing down is hard. I want to do something. I need to move, to be a person of action. Waiting is hard. Help me to wait for you. Help me to find strength and courage in you. Show me how I can reach out in the bravery and the strength you have given me to others who might feel the same as I do, so that they too might find strength and courage in you. - Amen

Monday, March 30, 2020

Manna For Today: Psalm 30

Psalm 30:1-12
Key Verses: 11-12
“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!”
The promise here is not that we will not mourn, nor is it a call to turn our funerals into joyous celebrations. The promise here is that mourning will not have the final word. There is pain. There is death. Our souls will ache with the sorrow of it. Throughout our lives, we will encounter the dark pit, but the promise is, each time God is there, with us and God will not leave us to the pain, to the sorrow, to the darkness. God will raise us up. God will help us find our way forward. And will help us find our joy again. Even in the face of death, of pain, of sorrow, God’s redeeming power will bring goodness, righteousness, and beauty to everything, to every situation, to every hurt, to each death. God will bring redemption to it all. We will be able to see God at work. And our response is to not remain silent, but to proclaim God’s goodness in it all, and through it all. To give thanks and glory to God even as we wait to see how God will bring redemption.

Thing to Think on
Look back at one the biggest struggles you have had in your life, how has God brought redemption (brought good things into and out bad) to that situation?
Can you see God bringing beauty, goodness and righteousness (redemption) to what is going on right now in your life?
What does it look like for you to not remain silent about the ways God’s redemptive power in your life?

A Prayer for Today
Lord, God you make beautiful things grow out of dark soil, you bring life where there is death and beauty where there only seems to be pain. Help me to see the green shoots of your work in my life. Help me to watch them grow and find joy in them. Lord also help me to “sing” of your goodness, to speak of your greatness and to give thanks to you in all things.  - Amen

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Cross Roads: Where We Wait

Psalm 130 

This is the third Sunday on which we have done things like this, as we begin the third week of what is becoming our new normal; a new normal in which we work hard to stay at home, which includes a daily address from our president, at least a weekly address from our governor; a new normal in which we hardly go outside, and in which we are careful to not come too close to anyone we may meet on the street, where there are marks on the floor telling us how to stand in the grocery line and we try not to touch anything we do not need to touch.
We have come to accept; the numbers of those infected by the illness will go up. We accept, the numbers of people who have lost their jobs, whose lives have been turned upside, the number of those who are hurting and in need will go up.  We accept this just as we accept the numbers which show us the strength of our economy will go down. Yesterday, as we were walking across a field on an evening walk, I expressed to Mike how important I thought it was that we continued to go for walks. We need to go for a walk every day, just in case a day came, in the near future, where we were encouraged to no longer go outside at all. We should make sure we take advantage of our ability to enjoy each and every beautiful day, just in case, just like so many other things, walking freely about our neighborhood becomes a luxury we no longer have. This is where we are right now.
It is from this strange reality in which we now live, the words of this Psalm comes to us, “Out of the depths, I cry to you Oh Lord.” And it is from the depths in which our society currently finds itself, we all cry out to God. We ask God to hear our voice, to be attentive to our supplications, to our requests for relief, for healing, for the complete irradiation of this virus which currently plagues so many the world over. We ask the Lord to look not at our sins, at our failings, at all the ways we have turned aside from the ways God and instead turn to us in compassion, mercy, forgiveness but most importantly healing and restoration.
“Out of our depths we cry to you, Oh Lord, hear our voices, listen to our pleas.”
The psalmist cries out in pain, in desperation, from whatever depths he was experiencing at the time, he does not tell us why he is crying out to God, which allows us, alongside believers throughout the centuries, to co-op his plea and allow his words to give voice to the cries of our own hearts. His words also express a turning to God, something we too find ourselves doing. The Psalmist cries out to God, not because he fears God cannot or will not hear him. He does not cry out to a deaf and dumb god, who like the gods of the countries around him were nothing but metal and wood, without ears to hear, or a will which can be moved on his behalf. The psalmist calls out to the One and only living God of the universe, who has the power to speak all things in to existence; has the ability to hear his voice and can move to give him aid, comfort, healing and mending to his brokenness.
The Psalmist calls out in faith. Some might think, crying out like this would be a sign of a lack of faith. But it is the exact opposite. When we cry out to God, in our pain, from the places of our hurt, in fear, and in desperation, this is a cry is a cry of faith not of unbelief. When we say to God, “Where are you in this,” “Why can I not see you,” “Can you even hear me,” “Do you see what is going on,” we are calling out to God and even though the words we say my seems to question God, the fact that we continue to cry out to God, is a statement of our faith none-the-less. As we lay our hurts, our cares, our fears, our own desperation upon the ancient words of this psalm, can do so from the same place of faith from which the psalmist originally penned them.
Each week this Lent, I have reminded you that Lent is a road down which we are traveling and as we travel, the psalms are the cross roads we encounter along the way, this week we come to this new cross road. As we come to this new road which crosses our path, carrying the burdens of our hurts, of our fears, of our concerns, of the losses we have already experienced and the losses we may soon experience, we stop. We look this way and that. The road no longer seems familiar, we are unsure which way we are supposed to go. The way forward is uncertain and we cry out to God hoping for a response, hoping for guidance, knowing God can hear us, but unable to know if we have heard a response. Unsure of the way to go, we set down our burdens and wait. And this is the hardest part.
If there is one thing these last two week have told us, if we did not already realize this, is that we are horrible at waiting. When the best thing we can do for ourselves is to stop for a while, to slow down just a bit and wait it out, we find excuses to go to the store more often than we should, we try to come up with reasons we need to go visit our friends, and we become tempted to join others in the park, when we know we really shouldn’t.
 We live in a time and a place in which what we do is our identity. We tell people, I am a pastor, a doctor, an electrician. It is the second question we ask others, following right on the heels of asking their name. The subtext of this culture of, “you are what you do,” is that you are nobody; you are nothing, if you are not doing something.  So we are a people who are unable to sit still, to do nothing, because we are afraid that means we are nothing.
The absolute worst thing for anyone to tell us is that in order to accomplish something, or anything is for us to wait, to be still, to do nothing. It makes no sense it goes against our training, against our inherent beliefs. It goes against everything we have been told all of our lives. Our cry in the face of any hardship, any obstacle, any hurt or pain, is, “There’s gotta be something I can do!”
Yet, here we are in a place where we must wait; a place where we need to be still, to find our way, by not going anywhere. And even here in our waiting, we join the words of this psalm as the psalmist say, “I wait for the Lord.” We wait, and we do so faithfully, expectantly, because we know we are not alone. We are not waiting for that which will never come. We are waiting for God. But we can’t make it happen; there is nothing we can do right now to bring about the working of God in this situation. We can do nothing but be still, stay at home and wait; wait knowing God redeems all things; wait knowing God hears us, knowing God will respond. We wait knowing God will bring redemption even to this.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 26

Psalm 26:1-12
Key Verse: 26:6-7
“I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O Lord, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds.”

I couldn’t help myself. We are all washing out hands so much these days. But washing our hands is the easy part. In these days of working from home, staying on top of our children to do their school work, not gatherings, not getting to see our friends, proclaiming how thankful we are for the things God has done and is doing is hard. Sometimes it is hard to see, but there are so many things we can be thankful for, especially when we are in the midst of difficult times as we are right now. But the world is still full of God’s goodness, there continue to be so many things for which we can be thankful.

Thing to Think on
What are the things that are making it hard for you to be thankful right now?
Wash your hands.
Now think about the comforts you have around you which are helping you make it through times like these. Take time to thank God for all these things.
As you encounter the good things in your life today, stop and speak your thankfulness for these things out loud.

A Prayer for Today
Great and wonderful God, in the midst of all that is going on right now; sometimes it is hard to notice the good things which surround me. Help me to see your goodness. Help me to notice the small blessings which surround me every day. Help me to practice gratitude today and to be thankful to you for the good and wonderful things in my life. - Amen

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Manna For Today: Psalm 20

Psalm 20:1-9
Key Verse: 20:5
“May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the Lord answer all your prayers.”

The Psalmist seems to be speaking directly to us; rejoicing when our prayers are being answered; shouting for joy over our victories. Yesterday we thought about what it would mean for us if we rejoiced when others are blessed. Today we get to turn that same idea on its head. When all of us are rejoicing over the victories of others, that means we too are being rejoiced over. When we learn to rejoice for others, other will join us in rejoicing and everyone’s blessings, everyone’s victories, when each one’s prayers are answered, including our own, are rejoiced over. Learning to rejoice for others, in the end brings joy into our lives. Let us rejoice for one another. Come let us rejoice together, because God is good. God is good to you and God is good to me.

Thing to Think on
How did rejoicing for the blessing of others change your perspective yesterday?
Did it occur to you that if you rejoice for others, that someone may also be rejoicing for you?
Is it easier to rejoice for others, when you know they too may be rejoicing for you?

A Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to rejoice for all the good in the world. For the good done for others, for the ways theirs lives are blessed. Let me so fill my world with rejoicing for others, not so that I too may be rejoiced over, but knowing that giving joy away, fills my world with joy and will be so immersed in it my life can not help but be shaped and changed by the joy I have for others and the joy they have for me.  – Amen

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 20

Psalm 20:1-9
Key Verse: 20:5
“May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the Lord answer all your prayers.”

The Psalmist seems to be speaking directly to us; rejoicing when our prayers are being answered; shouting for joy over our victories. Yesterday we thought about what it would mean for us if we rejoiced when others are blessed. Today we get to turn that same idea on its head. When all of us are rejoicing over the victories of others, that means we too are being rejoiced over. When we learn to rejoice for others, other will join us in rejoicing and everyone’s blessings, everyone’s victories, when each one’s prayers are answered, including our own, are rejoiced over. Learning to rejoice for others, in the end brings joy into our lives. Let us rejoice for one another. Come let us rejoice together, because God is good. God is good to you and God is good to me.

Thing to Think on
How did rejoicing for the blessing of others change your perspective yesterday?
Did it occur to you that if you rejoice for others, that someone may also be rejoicing for you?
Is it easier to rejoice for others, when you know they too may be rejoicing for you?

A Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to rejoice for all the good in the world. For the good done for others, for the ways theirs lives are blessed. Let me so fill my world with rejoicing for others, not so that I too may be rejoiced over, but knowing that giving joy away, fills my world with joy and will be so immersed in it my life can not help but be shaped and changed by the joy I have for others and the joy they have for me.  – Amen

Monday, March 23, 2020

Cross Roads: The Shepherd's Road

Our Text is: 
Psalm 23  

When Mike made the choice to move our Sunday morning worship online last week, I believed him to be doing it out of an overabundance of caution. Between the two of us Mike is the more cautious one. Little did we know that by the day, the governor would make this sort of worship basically mandatory for congregations across the state. As the week progressed, state by state similar regulations have gone into effect until basically the whole US has been included.
This year, toilet paper shortages, social distancing, working from home, schooling from home, trying to figure out the best, least crowded time to go to the grocery store; all of this is a part of our Lenten journey. As we continue to journey down this road through Lent we find our path has taken us into a dark valley. Perhaps saying we find ourselves in a valley of the “shadow of death” would be a bit melodramatic, but I have to confess, as I worked through this passage this week, I could not help but think, “Lord, here we are in the valley and the shadow which has come over us sure does feel like one of death.” Now don’t get me wrong I have not been sitting at my house this week thinking, “We’re all gonna die”, but the shadow, which has passed over us is, is not so much the shadow of death, but it is most definitely the shadow that is the fear of death.
All this staying home and waiting reminds me of how it feels when we have all hunkered down waiting for a hurricane making its way toward us. Those of in the North East did that a fair few years ago, those, farther South of us have done it more recently. When a hurricane is coming, we can track its path. We can predict where it might go next, whether it might turn inland or go out to sea. We know, when it finally runs its course, some will be hit, and others will be fine. If it follows the worst case scenario things might not go back to normal for a really long time. And that is where are right now, hunkered down waiting so see what will come, praying for the best, preparing for the worst. Perhaps this is not the shadow of death per-se, but it is a big, dark, scary shadow, looming, surrounding, and threatening to engulf, none-the-less.
While living in a place that is most definitely a valley enshadowed, we gather in this strange ungathering, united in worship yet separate, coming together, while remaining apart. In our fear, in our separation, in our loneliness, we come to this familiar passage and can find comfort in saying together, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and know God takes care of us, provides for us, and tends to our needs.
Here in the US our culture has made all of us into consumers. And consumer, we know anything we want can be gotten. But not everything can be gotten right now. So there is so much want, which goes unfulfilled. We walk away unsatisfied.  For the first time in most of our memories store shelves are routinely void of the things we want. We cannot have them, they are not there to buy and that makes us nervous and worried. What are consumers when the things we consume are gone?
I may not need flour now, but last time I was at the store, there were NO bags of flour on the store shelf.  Today there are just a few. Should I buy some, even if I do not need it right now, just in case there is none when do need some? How much should I buy when I do buy some? We want, flour, hand sanitizer, surface disinfectants, and toilet paper. And right now most of us leave the stores wanting. But with the Lord as our shepherd there is no need to want, to desire what we do not have, cannot have, is not available to be had.
We belong to the shepherd God who provides for our needs, who fills us with all good things. Remember the Israelites in the dessert who found bread in the morning and meat in the evening, just waiting to be prepared and eaten. And when they were thirsty there was a rock ready to flow with water. God lead by day and by night, going with them we ever they went. This is the God who is with us now. Here in our valley, guiding us in the light of day, and continues to be with us in the darkness and the fear, providing for us, sheltering us and keeping us. There is no need to fear, God is with us, in it all, through it all, no matter where we are. God is with us.
The one who provided food in the desert, water from a rock this is the one who gives to us, who fills us and who satisfies us, who will give us rest, peace, calm. Our shepherd calls to us, invites us to breathe deeply and to be still. Not “be still” like too many of us have been still this past week; still in our houses, with our insides abuzz with fear, vibrating with anxiety, pacing within ourselves, with desire to do something. Anything. We are called to be still within ourselves, to give up our anxiousness, fast from our fear, to sit down within ourselves and trust God.
Our shepherd comes to us at us and says rest here, be still, relax. I will keep watch. Do not fear, do not worry. Take a break from all that worries you. Step away from the news. Turn it off, listen to my voice instead, to the gentle sound of the waters. There is enough here for you. Be still, be calm. Rest. Let the waters restore you, refresh you. Let the gentle sound calm you. Listen to my voice, follow me and together we will find the green pastures, the quiet stream, the place of rest. The place where our worries are stilled and our anxieties are calmed.
This Lent I have asked you to envision that we are traveling along a road which is taking us to Christ’s cross, his suffering, his death and ultimately the resurrection. Along this road we have come to several cross roads. These cross roads are the Psalms we have encountered each Sunday as we have journeyed through Lent. This week the road which crosses ours is the Shepherd’s Road; a road that is more of an invitation to journey in community with God than an actual road itself.
In the 23rd Psalm we encounter our Shepherd God, calling to us, come let us journey together. Life is better together. Are you lonely? Come let us walk together, let us go together. Is the road rough, is the journey difficult? Let me put my arm around you, we can do this together. Are you anxious or frightened, I am here.
The fact of the matter is our God is really awful, at Social Distancing. In this world of social distancing where to many are alone in their homes, unable to spend time with others, their only encounter with others being the clerk at the grocery store, not only does our shepherd walk hand in hand with us, and support us with strong comforting arms, but God says, “Come dwell with me.” “Come stay in my house, eat at my table, be full, be satisfied.” “We can face anything that comes against us together, with a full stomach and joy in our hearts.”
As we journey together with God, as our guide and our support there are two travelers behind us. Goodness and mercy, who are following along the way. Perhaps it is time to stop for moment, let them catch up. Bring them along for the journey. Make it a road trip, Goodness, Mercy, God and you. Together you will make it through.
And that is the message of this Psalm for us today. Let us journey together, even as we are apart. Let us travel this lonely journey together, staying at least six feet apart, in our own homes. We know God is with us, but let us give voice to the presence of God. Be goodness and mercy traveling with others along this new road. Give people a call. Call someone you have not talked to in a while catchup with them. Check up on others from within our congregation, see how they are doing. Check in on your neighbors. Take someone a meal. You can even do a sort of ding-dong-dash, where you drop the food at the door, ring and run. Offer to do a grocery run for someone who might otherwise be finding it difficult. Be goodness and mercy, traveling this lonely road, down which we are all journeying together.
Today God calls for us to journey together, reminds us we are not on this road alone. God is traveling with us, walking with us, is our guide, our help and our strength all along the way. We are encouraged to journey not only with God, but to journey with one another (sepearately). We are in this together, you, me, us together with God. We can do this.

Manna For Today: Psalm 22

Psalm 22:1-31
Key Verse: 22:11
“Do not stay so far from me, for trouble is near, and no one else can help me.”

All of us feel alone, abandoned by everyone. There are times it seems to us that even God had turned away from us. This is the Psalm Jesus quotes on the cross in his deepest hour of need. Feeling alone is a deeply human feeling. Even Jesus, being fully human, felt like abandoned and alone. We want human companionship and when we are hurting, it becomes easy for us to believe we are completely and utterly alone. When we feel like this we need to let those around us know how we feel. They cannot know how we are feeling unless we tell them. When we do so we might find we are not as alone as we thought. We can also cry out to God. Let God know how we are feeling. Perhaps even in the calling we will discover how close God truly is to us in our hurting, in our pain and in our loneliness.

Thing to Think on
Is it easy for you to call out to God when you are hurting or upset?
How honest are you with God when it comes to your feelings?
Have you ever felt the way the Psalmist feels in this Psalm?
Tell God how you are feeling right now? Are you happy? Are you sad? Are you fearful? Are you lonely? Be honest. Tell God exactly how it is.

A Prayer for Today
Lord, help me to be honest with you. Jesus was honest with you. Jesus let you know that he felt like even you had abandoned him. Sometimes you feel so far away. I feel as if I am facing the most difficult things in life alone, without your, without your comfort. Help me to trust you even when I am unsure of your presence. Help me to turn to even when I cannot see you. Help me to know what my feelings tell me is not so. Help me to know you are always here, with me, at all times, through all things.  - Amen


Saturday, March 21, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 40

Psalm 40:1-17
Key Verses: 40:20 NRSV
“I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.”

The ways God helps us, the ways God shapes us and forms us, we often times keep these things to ourselves. Here the Psalmist gladly proclaims that he does not hide these things in his heart. Instead he proclaims God’s faithfulness, God’s salvation, and God’s steadfast love to everyone.  Sharing with others about how God is working in us is a way to bring glory to God and to encourage others who also might be looking for God to work in their lives or who are struggling in the same ways we are. Let us be open with one another about the ways God is forming us.

Things to Think on
In what ways has god helped you this week?
How is God shaping you and forming you in love?
How have you seem God’s love at work this week?
When was the last time you shared with others about these sorts of things?
Take time today to share with those around you about how God is at work in your life.

A Prayer for Today
Lord, God sometimes I want to be like Mary and hold things about you in my heart, treasure them and keep them for myself. Help me to be abe to share with others about how you are helping me, teaching me, and shaping me. Help me to listen to others when they share these things with me. Help me to bring glory to your Name be an encouragement to others. - Amen

Friday, March 20, 2020

Manna for Today: Pslam 25

Psalm 25:1-22
Key Verses: 25:16 NRSV
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”

This verse speaks directly to many of us and our situations, right now. Social isolation has already caused some to feel lonely and others are finding 24/7 with loved ones makes us feel afflicted. Together we all cry out in our loneliness and/or affliction, “Be gracious to me!” Or from the KJV, “Have mercy on me!”  This is hard, all of need a little more graciousness and/or mercy. We need our cups to run over; overflowing. When we find ourselves feeling as if we are hanging by a thread, let us turn to God instead of turning inward and giving into the overwhelming nature of these feelings.

Things to Think on
Perhaps you are not feeling lonely and afflicted, what are you feeling?
What would God’s graciousness or mercy look like for you right now?
What causes you the most distress right now? What are you worried about?
Ask God for what you need right now.
What does “waiting” for the Lord look like right now for you?
What would it look like to be “delivered” by God?
Can you see a glimmer of God’s redemption at work right now, in your life, your community, our world? How and where is God moving?
Spend time focusing on what God is doing and God is bringing deliverance and redemption to your life, your family, your community and our world.

A Prayer for Today
Lord, God we come to you in our loneliness, and our affliction. So many of us are literally alone and others us are finding being alone with loved ones is harder than we thought. We turn to you in desperation for strength, for guidance. Deliver us, redeem this situation. Help us to wait for you, to look to you for mercy, for grace and for all the things we might need right now.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 24

Psalm 24:1-10
Key Verses: 24:1-2 ESV

The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.
God created all things and all that is in it belongs to God. The psalmist reminds us everything is God’s; not just the green pastures and the refreshing streams, but also the swirling seas, symbols of chaos and fear; the raging rivers, symbols of dangers. We too belong to God. As we exist in this new world where the lay of the land changes from day to day, if not faster, we can find solace in knowing we belong to the One who slept in the bow of boat in the midst of the storm. God’s got this. God’s got you.

Things to Think on
How does it feel to know you belong to God?
How does it feel to know that the whole earth is God’s?
Did the part about having clean hands make you laugh?
What does it mean for you to know that you will receive God’s blessing and God’s salvation?
At the end the Psalmist asks us twice as a way of helping us remember the answer, “Who is this King of glory?” What do you need to be reminded about God today? What question do you need to answer for yourself twice?

A Prayer for Today
Lord, God sometimes it is good to remember that the whole earth and all that is in it is yours. It is good to be reminded that I am yours. Help me to trust you. Help me to trust you. Let me have both metaphorical and literal cleans hands today, so that I can have a pure heart ready to receive your blessing and your salvation. Remind me of who you are and let me trust in who you are. -Amen

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 80

Psalm 80:1-18
Key Verse: 80:3,7,19 ESV

“Restore us, O Lord God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!”
In such a short amount of time we have lost so much. We can no longer meet together; can no longer go to our favorite restaurant. Things spin more and more out of control we lose more and more. Restore us! Oh Lord we cry! Save us! Bring your cleansing and your healing to us all. Restore to everything that we have lost, everything we are losing. God is the one who gives us life, who reaches into creation and breathes life into the broken, bits of our lives. God is our restoration. Trust in the Lord, turn to God. God will save us; restore us. God’s face will shine on us, in and through it all.

Things to Think on:
How has your life changed recently?
Are there things you have lost you wished would be restored?
What would it look like, feel like for you to feel God’s face shine upon you?
What would it mean for God to look from Heaven and see, see you, see what is going on in your life?
Is it hard to trust that God can bring restoration, and salvation to all these parts of your life?

A Prayer for Today
Oh Lord God who can see all things. I know you see me, you see all the things I have lost. You see all the broken bits of my life. Help me to trust you, help me to turn to you when all life seems to be chaos. You are the God of my salvation, the one who can restore all things. - Amen

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 81

          Since we are unable to meet in person and most of us due to social distancing mandates we will all eventually begin feeling farther and farther apart. In an attempt to if not draw us closer to one another but perhaps closer to the one in whom all community is found and in an act of faith I am committing to writing a few thoughts on scripture each day. I do not promise profound theological wisdom. I just promise prayerful thoughts, some questions and a prayer that will come out of my daily study of a Psalm. It is my hope that this will be manna provided to all of us by God. So I am calling these daily thoughts, “Manna for Today.”

Psalm 81:1-16
Key Verse: 81:10 NRSV

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it”

In the middle of it all we are reminded of the daily provision of God in the desert, mana and quail for today and water from a rock. God is the provider of what we need. The Psalm says, “open your mouth wide,” in order to be filled and to be satisfied, we must first turn to God in a posture ready to receive what God has for us. Come to God mouths wide open like a baby bird trusting, that with which we will be filled will be exactly what we need, will fill us and satisfy our longings, our desires, be the precise thing we need to make it through.

Things to Think on:
Take time, now, to join the Psalmist in praise to God for all the things God has done. Ponder all ways God has been there, been your strength, your healer, your provider.
Pause to listen to God. Sit in stillness so you can hear what the Lord. God has to say to you.
Do you find it hard to listen to God? In what ways are you tempted to follow your own counsel today? To turn away from the ways of the Lord to follow the ways of the world around us? How can you better trust God today?

A Prayer for Today
Lord, God in times like these it is hard to trust you. It is hard to give you praise when the world around us swells with chaos and darkness. Help me to turn to you, to listen to you, to walk in your ways. Help me to remember you and what you have done even as I work to trust you through today. I turn to you know expecting to be filled, knowing you will give me all your good things and what you give will satisfy.  - Amen

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Cross Roads: The Road of our Help

Psalm 121
Last week we embarked on our Lenten journey, a journey which takes us down a road, a road on which we follow Christ toward his cross. I asked you to envision this journey as being on an actual road, along which there are several cross roads each cross road being each of the Psalms we will encounter over the Sundays during Lent. Last Sunday in Psalm 32 we encountered the cross road of Forgiveness.
This week the Psalm which crosses our path is Psalm 121. This Psalm is believed to be a Psalm for a journey. One which was sung as you embarked upon a journey, or along the way, as you traveled. 
We were a military family growing up, which meant that for most of my life we lived far from Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, sometimes more than a days’ drive. So we would often go on road trips. As we traveled we would often sing together, either songs which we would spontaneously sing, but at other times, songs which we knew that came up on the radio. One such was, “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers . . . you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fole’em know when to walk, away, know when to run . . . (I know, I know – my father liked country so we listened to country). We do it with my girls too, except we sing Johnathan Colton or the Sparks Nevada theme song. So although I understand all about journey songs, I cannot say I ever sung a journey song as deeply spiritual as the one we find here in Psalm 121. As Christ minded as my family was growing up and Mike and I might be now the songs sung in our travels have never been as edifying as this one. I guess those ancient Hebrews knew how travel.
Imagine we are those ancient Hebrews, about to make our yearly journey to Jerusalem. We have all our things loaded up in the old family station wagon, which in this case looks more like a donkey, smells more like a donkey and well, is an actual donkey. The sun is just about fully up and we head out, walking together along the road. The road stretches out before us, we can see it as it winds its way up into the hills all around. In the hills are the unknown, as you approach them and journey through them, the road becomes steep and winding, more and more difficult to travel. Our destination is beyond the hills and looking up at them here at the beginning of our journey puts our minds on the dangers and the hardships which lay along the long road ahead.
This Psalm reminds the traveler of God’s provision and God’s protection, so it was sung by ancient Israelites as they traveled. It begins by asking a simple question, ‘From where does my help come?” At the start of the journey with the road ahead along with its rough passages, its dangers and all the unknowns that come along the way. A traveler just setting out might look to the hills wondering if the help might come from within the hills, from among the hills or perhaps from the hills themselves.
As the journey begins one might be reassured thinking they when they get there, help might be found within the hills. Journey through the hills can be treacherous, a storm might suddenly blow up from the other side, catching a windblown traveler off guard.  The road might be steeper than anticipated or simply take longer than expected, and a road weary traveler might find themselves traveling through the hills when night comes. When things like this occurred a traveler would look around them for help, such help could be found in shelter or the caves or protection from within a stronghold which might be found in the hills. But does the traveler’s help come from the protection that can be found within the shelter the caves or the strongholds within the hills might offer? The Psalmist tells us, “No.” Although, the caves and the hills are there and can provide protection, the traveler’s help does not ultimately come from within these places in the hills. Nothing within the hills can truly provide help.   
There also might be someone among the hills who would be willing to offer help or protection along the way. Can the weary traveler who is about embark on this road depend upon the kindness of an unknown stranger along the way? No, there is no guarantee such help will come along when the weary traveler is beset by wild animals, or thieves (like the man in Jesus’ parable about the Samaritan). There may be good people living in the hills, followers of God who are willing to offer care for a traveler or is in need. But even the kindness of a stranger does not mean that the traveler’s help comes from among the hills.
Can the hills themselves provide help? This seems like an odd question, but at the time this Psalm was penned sacred places were up on the hills. The hills “contained” the homes of all the gods of hills, and places where people would go to worship and pray to these gods. Could the travel look to the gods of these high places for help? Again the resounding answer is, “No.” The gods among the hills are at best deaf, they are asleep. They are nothing but the wood or brass from which they are cast. They cannot hear and will not awaken when the traveler calls out in their time of need.
There is only One who is our help along the journey, the creator of the hills, the creator of the path, the creator of the cave or the shelter and the creator all who live in the hills. The Lord God is creator of all things. The Lord God is the only one to look to for help along the journey! All help that can be found, or would be found along the way, ultimately comes from the hand of God.
The rest of the Psalm is a blessing. It encourages us by letting us know how it is God helps us and keeps us along the journey. As we journey, even as we grow weary, God does not. We might need to rest, to sleep, but God will remain awake. Keeping guard by night and by day, watching over us, shielding us, and protecting us all along the way. God will go with us, and will be our untiring guide by day and our wakeful watch throughout the night. As we journey we need not fear. God will hold back our rational daylight fears, as well as our irrational nighttime fears. God will watch us as we go and as we return. 
And this watchfulness, this journeying with, this protection is not just for this journey, not just for a particular road, or along a certain path it is from now and forevermore. It is a guidance, a protection, and a help with no end. Not with the coming of the night, not with the heat of the day, not with the ending of this journey but will be with us throughout our life. God is the God of all things, at all times, in all places. God’s protection, God’s keeping, God’s promise to be with us will never end, from our first waking when we opened our eyes to the first light, until the moment when we close them for the eternal night. God is with us, God is protecting us, God is keeping us and helping us all along the way.
Although this is a psalm for a journey about to be taken, it is a psalm for the journey of Lent. In Lent we journey together, preparing ourselves for Christ’s cross; preparing ourselves to remember Christ’s death and to then celebrate his resurrection. During this time we look at our mortality and our finitude. We are reminded that from dust we were created and to dust we will one day return. It is also a time to be reminded that we all too often fail to be who God calls us to be. We do not love God with our whole hearts and do not respond in Godly loving kindness to those around us. Lent is a time of confession, of repentance and of forgiveness. This journey of Lent is a hard journey. It asks us as Christians to be honest with ourselves and with God. In doing so we might be drawn closer to Christ. By taking this path to the cross, it is a reminder that all of life is a journey, throughout which we must follow the cross carrying Christ. We are reminded we must continually turn away from our own wantings, so that our desires can be conformed, transformed into the desires of the Christ whom we follow.
Finally, we are reminded that God is our helper, our keeper, our guardian and our guide along this journey. God is watching us and bringing us along; making us and unmaking us so that we can be remade in the image of Christ. Our desire is for this Lenten journey to bring us closer to Christ, so that by journey’s end we are holier, better reflections of the character of God and more perfect image bearers. We journey with Christ toward the cross so that we can be bearers of Christ’s name, so that we can indeed be Christ-ians! And it is God who is doing this in us and for us, as we journey.
We are on a greater journey than just this journey of Lent. We are on life’s road. We travel for all our days along this road, not just heading toward Christ’s death, as we were reminded on Ash Wednesday but throughout life we travel toward our own, as we return to the dust from which we came.
It is a common metaphor to think of the entirety of our lives as journey. Life is the ultimate journey which we all are on. There are times along this road called life when we look around, just like the ancient Hebrew traveler who sung this dong and we wonder, “Where is our help? From where will it come?” We see the road down which we travel. The mountains are steep and foreboding, the valleys are dark, the rivers are fast moving and impossible to cross. Our friends are sick, our loved ones die, our finances are strapped, we have failed in our relationships, our jobs are unbearable, there is an ever widening pandemic coming for us, no one knows how bother to even attempt to be civil toward one another, we fear for our futures, we fear for our children, the world around us is spiraling out of control and we don’t know what too with all of this. We look around at it all, the virtual hills, in our lives and wonder,
“where is our help?”
“Where is our keeper?”
“In whom can we trust?”
The resounding answer of the Psalmist is, “God.” Who will keep watch at night and will not fall asleep? God. Who will shield you from the beating rays of the sun? God. Who will quell the rational fears that assail you by day, and the irrational ones that creep upon you in the night? God. Who sees the evil ahead and will steer you away? Who will watch you as you come and as you go? God will! When we wander off the path and go our own way, who is there for us to help us find our way back? God. Today, tomorrow and forevermore. God is there with us, walking alongside of us.
Have someone hand out the marbles.
If I have said it once, I will say it again and again, lest we forget. God’s protection, God’s guidance, God’s keeping does not mean that we will not find ourselves in dark valleys, it does not mean that we will not find the road through the hills and into the mountains steep and arduous. The journey goes where the journey goes. Life is not straight and smooth. But God is there through it all. The whole of it is in God’s hands. All of it from beginning to end.
By now you all should have the marbles. Hold them in your hand. Look at them. Look at the swirling pattern in them. You can look at the whole of it. You can see its twists of each of the patterns held within, which way it turns, and all the ways it goes. You can see the whole of it. You can hold it in your hand. Imagine the journey of your life as the pattern in the marble. You can see it all. You can hold it in your hand. If you are walking along the pattern, following its turns, its twists, journeying along it ridges and letting it turn you upside down, you cannot see where it goes. You cannot know it in its entirety.
Our perspective is that of one walking along the pattern in the marble. God’s perspective is that of us holding the marble. God can follow where it goes, God can see the whole of it. In fact as we walk travel along, God is looking ahead and can see where the path is taking us, each step along the journey. God can even turn the marble so that we stay up right, so we do not fall, or are not completely destroyed by the journey.
But not only is God the holder, the keeper of the marble that is our life, but God is the creator. God puts us together, God holds us and keeps us, watches over us.  God is with us all through the twists and turns we encounter and God is working to set things right, to turn the marble so that we will not be destroyed by the journey.
There is another truth which cannot be seen in this marble, and that is the path is not set. We can wander off, go our own way, meander this way, and seek after things which are not along the journey God would have us take. In a world of paved roads, maps and GPSs wandering far away from a known path is hard to imagine. I was not fully aware of what it meant to truly wander from the path until last year when I was backpacking with Melissa.
As we hiked we came into a cedar forest. Cedars are tall ever green trees with long red trunks and the branches are only high up. The whole of the ground was covered with short brown pine needs, creating a uniform blanket on the ground. The long red trunks surrounded us, since they only had branches high above our heads they all seemed to be the same. The path on which we walked was obscured by the needles at our feet, if it were not for the painted markings on the trees, we would not have known which way the trail went.
As we came into the middle of this particular section of our journey, we stopped and looked around us. We were both struck by the same idea. If we wandered off in this forest we would never find our way again. How would we find the path? How would we know our way?
We had heard stories of hikers who stepped off the path for one reason or another and were unable to find their way back and had always wondered how that happened. Standing there in among what seemed to be an unending sea of cedars, everything looking exactly the same in all directions, I suddenly became aware what it truly meant to leave the path behind. I could at the time in that place understand what it would mean to be to be really and truly lost, unable to find ones way, not knowing which direction to go, which direction was correct.
In our lives we can step off the path, we can wander into the cedar forest and loose our way. We can do so in small increments, not knowing we are leaving the safety of the way behind, and at other times we make choices, we do things that take us off the path. However we managed to get there the result is the same, we find ourselves adrift in an unending sea of cedars. We might or might not even know how we got here, but we know one thing, we know we cannot see the path on which we know we should be. We do not know which way to go, which way will lead us to safety or which way will take us deeper into danger.
Even when we wander God is the God of the journey. The wonderful thing is when we do this, when we make choices which we know are wrong, or make them not entirely realizing where it is they are leading us, God does not stay back on the path, when we wander off, waiting there for us to return. God does remain in the way we should have gone and call to us, “Come, over here, follow the sound of my voice,” playing some distorted version the childhood pool game “Marco Polo” (you know game of following a person’s voice with your eyes closed trying to catch them), expecting us to be able to follow God’s voice back to the road. No God goes with us into the cedars; God is there with us when we find we are lost, when we realize we have gone astray. God is with us there, watches over us there and then when we decide to return, and helps us forge a new way.
The way back might be hard, and might get worse before it is better. But the God of redemption redeems all things. The God who watches us and guides us, will guide us along new ways when we have chosen to go off on our own, helping us forge a new path that will once again take us where God leads.
 The whole journey, from beginning to end, even the ways we paved ourselves in our ignorance and in our sin, are in God’s redemptive hands. God can take our sinful journey and make it a journey that will shine forth with the Glory of God, a journey which will allow us to better reflect the grace and mercy of Christ. God redeems all things, even our poor choices and our wayward wandering, making all things shine with God’s glory and allowing us even in our brokenness to reflect the love, grace and forgiveness of Christ to others around us.
With confidence we can say with the Psalmist, “Lord will keep you going out and you’re coming in, from this time and forevermore.” From now and for forever, God is with you, God will keep you, God will protect you and keep watch over you, and journey with you, today and forever more.