Psalm 35 Lord, Fight for Me in the Struggle

Wartburg Castle, Eisenach, Germany. Photo by Robert Scarth shared under creative commons 2.0

Psalm 35

Of David.
1 Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!
2 Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise up to help me!
3 Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers; say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”
4 Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life. Let them be turned back and confounded who devise evil against me.
5 Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them on.
6 Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them.
7 For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life.
8 Let ruin come on them unawares. And let the net that they hid ensnare them; let them fall in it — to their ruin.
9 Then my soul shall rejoice in the LORD, exulting in his deliverance.
10 All my bones shall say, “O LORD, who is like you? You deliver the weak from those too strong for them, the weak and needy from those who despoil them.”
11 Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me about things I do not know.
12 They repay me evil for good; my soul is forlorn.
13 But as for me, when they were sick, I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting. I prayed with head bowed on my bosom,
14 as though I grieved for a friend or a brother; I went about as one who laments for a mother, bowed down and in mourning.
15 But at my stumbling they gathered in glee, they gathered together against me; ruffians whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing;
16 they impiously mocked more and more, gnashing at me with their teeth.
17 How long, O LORD, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions!
18 Then I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.
19 Do not let my treacherous enemies rejoice over me, or those who hate me without cause wink the eye.
20 For they do not speak peace, but they conceive deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land.
21 They open wide their mouths against me; they say, “Aha, Aha, our eyes have seen it.”
22 You have seen, O LORD; do not be silent! O Lord, do not be far from me!
23 Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord!
24 Vindicate me, O LORD, my God, according to your righteousness, and do not let them rejoice over me.
25 Do not let them say to themselves, “Aha, we have our heart’s desire.” Do not let them say, “We have swallowed you up.”
26 Let all those who rejoice at my calamity be put to shame and confusion; let those who exalt themselves against me be clothed with shame and dishonor.
27 Let those who desire my vindication shout for joy and be glad, and say evermore, “Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant.”
28 Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all day long.

Life can be difficult and painful and a crisis can overwhelm our ability to focus on anything beyond the anxiety and suffering of the present. The psalms speak from the height and breadth of human emotion and experience. They cry out to God to attempt to reconcile the promise of a loving God who cares for and protects us and those times those times where it seems God has turned away or abandoned us to our enemies. Yet, against all evidence that God is absent or distant the psalmist cries out zealously for the LORD to intervene and fight for them against their enemies. The poet asks for God to take sides, to not stand with their oppressors any longer. To be the God who sees and hears and acts. To be the divine warrior who rouses the armies of the heavens to defend the righteous ones and to punish the wicked and evil ones.

For some Western Christians the idea of praying for God to intervene in such an active way using such militaristic language may be initially troubling. We may be captive to the image of God which was used by many thinkers of the last several centuries who imagined god as an ‘unmoved mover’ who doesn’t become involved in the affairs of this earth, or we may imagine a philosopher’s god that remains stoic and passive but neither of these gods resembles the God portrayed throughout the scriptures. A god who refuses to judge and who is merely noncoercive love might work in a suburban life where we believe that we can secure our own future but the God of the psalmist is a God who helps those who are unable to deliver themselves. Who seeks justice for the oppressed of the earth who call upon their Lord and who hears their cries for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In Psalm 35 the poet speaks of a time where crisis is overwhelming them and they require God’s deliverance. The cry for the LORD of the heavens and the earth to contend against their enemies and to become their salvation becomes, as Brueggemann and Bellinger state it,

a passionate clinging to God when everything really speaks against God. For that reason they can rightly be called psalms of zeal, to the extent that in them passion for God is aflame in the midst of the ashes of doubt about God and despair over human beings. (Brueggeman, 2014, p. 176)

One could imagine this psalm on the lips of many faithful people throughout the history of Israel and the history of the church: Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other civil rights leaders as they received death threats or were beaten as they attempted to peacefully point towards a more just society. Martin Luther as he was hidden away at Wartburg Castle and felt like the world was falling apart around him as the gospel was misinterpreted by some and his life was sought by others. Jesus as he prayed in the garden knowing that he was going to be handed over to Pontius Pilate, beaten and then crucified. Jeremiah as he proclaimed the LORD’s judgment to the people of Judah and was met with scorn and persecution. These and countless others could easily have had these words upon their lips as they continued to trust in God in the midst of the evil and wickedness they saw in their own time and lives.

Within this cry of the psalmist is the painful language of betrayal and the confusion it can cause in a life. The opponent set a trap for them and a pit for them to fall into, and the poet doesn’t know how to answer the malicious witnesses that have risen against them. From their perspective they have done good and evil has been returned to them. They attempted to treat the other with empathy and compassion and they have received mocking and disdain. The experience of this has left a deep pain upon the soul of the psalmist as they attempt to navigate these treacherous waters they find themselves in.

The cry, “How long, O LORD” resonates as the poet waits for their deliverance. They trust that the deliverance will come as they zealously cry out to God, but they wait on the LORD’s response. They cry for God to awaken and stir, to draw near and to vindicate. They cry for justice in the face of injustice and God’s triumph over their oppression and oppressors. One of the gifts of the psalms is that they give us a model of people who lift up the cries of their heart before their God. This prayer comes from a place where others would succumb to doubt and hopelessness, but this faithful psalmist continues to zealously cry out for God’s intervention in their crisis.

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Psalm 34 The Experienced Faithfulness of God

Psalm 34

Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.
1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
9 O fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12 Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all.
20 He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Psalm 34 is another acrostic poem (each line beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew Alphabet) where the teacher passes on a robust life of trust in God’s faithfulness and presence. Its form points to the psalm being an A to Z (or Aleph to Taw) exposition of what a whole life under God’s care looks like. Faith becomes something passed on from the speaker to the hearer as they impart the wisdom they have learned from their experience of life. What they are handing on is not a naïve faith that cannot endure heartbreak, struggle and disappointment but a fully embodied faith which learns to trust in the LORD’s seeing, hearing, and action in the difficult times.

The beginning begins in blessing, a blessing that comes continually from the poet’s mouth. The blessing is not conditional upon the feelings of the moment, nor is the psalmist’s faith dependent upon never enduring hardship. Praise is the appropriate action for the one who trusts and fears the LORD. They can praise based on their experience of God’s dependability. The faithful one has learned to boast in the LORD, and it is God’s strength and power that is their foundation. As Psalm 33 reminds us it is not armies, or strength, or military might that is the place where we are to put our trust but instead we magnify the LORD and exalt his name. This places the speaker and hearers in a place where they can acknowledge, “Praise does not make God greater, but it acknowledges that God is greater than I.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 324) The life of faith learns peace by trusting in the strength and protection and trustworthiness of their God.

The poet invites those hearing into their experience of faith. Faith has an experiential component, and here the psalm can look back upon times where the speaker cried out and they were heard. The psalmist trusted in the LORD and feared the LORD and the LORD extended protection around them. Taste and see that the LORD is good, one of my favorite lines of this psalm, is an invitation to come and experience, or in the words of the lectionary gospel reading from John for this week, to “come and see.” (John 1: 46) This may have originated as a portion of a sacrifice of thanksgiving where the invitation to taste and see the blessings of God may have been an invitation to the table. There is value in taking the time to reflect upon the provision of God throughout our lives and, whether at times like Thanksgiving or simply as a portion of a prayer before a meal, to be reminded that the things that we taste and see are ways in which God has provided for us. Happiness resides in being able to accept the things that one has as a gift rather than something one is entitled to.

The young lions, those beasts which are the strongest and seem to be able to seize their security for themselves, suffer want and hunger in contrast to the faithful ones who trust in the LORD’s provision. The continual call of instruction to those who are hearing, like a parent to a child, of what it means to fear, love and trust God above all things becomes the center of handing on this embodied and experienced faith. Those desiring to experience a fullness of life throughout their days are encouraged to seek the paths of righteousness and faithfulness in contrast to the ways of deceit and evil. They are to depart from evil, seek peace and pursue it for the LORD will actively watch over the righteous.

This care of the LORD takes on the familiar human senses. The LORD will see since the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, God will hear because God’s ears are open to their cry and the LORD’s face will be set against those who work against God’s ways. Being a faithful one does not guarantee a life free of heartbreak or affliction, yet the LORD is present amid those experiences and does not allow those experiences to separate the faithful on from God’s steadfast love. Even though the wicked may seem to prosper there is a trust that evil itself will bring down the wicked. Perhaps this is a part of arc of the moral universe bending towards justice that Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders could speak of. At the foundation of this faith is a belief that goodness ultimately triumphs over evil, that righteousness will persevere long beyond wickedness and that God’s will shall eventually be done on earth as it is in heaven. I’m going to close with a quote from Peter C. Craigie I found helpful in hearing this psalm:

The fear of the Lord establishes joy and fulfillment in all of life’s experiences. It may mend the broken heart, but it does not prevent the heart from being broken; it may restore the spiritually crushed, but it does not crush the forces that create oppression. The psalm, if fully grasped, dispels the naiveté of that faith which does not contain within it the strength to stand against the onslaught of evil. (NIB IV: 815)

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Psalm 33 The Earth is Full of the Steadfast Love of God

Psalm 33

 1 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous. Praise befits the upright.
2 Praise the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.
3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
4 For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.
6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
10 The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.
13 The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind.
14 From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth —
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.
16 A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.
18 Truly the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield.
21 Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
 
This psalm is a majestic psalm of praise that takes the fundamental trust throughout the psalms that God will take care of the author and the faithful ones and extends that care to all of creation. If you read Psalm 32 and 33 together then this psalm becomes the shout for joy by the righteous ones (shout for joy in 32 and rejoice in 33 translate the same Hebrew verb). Martin Luther’s well-known explanation of the first commandment that we are to “fear, love and trust God above all things.” could explain the dynamic of many psalms, but we hear in this psalm why God is trustworthy and many of the things that seem to be powerful are not. The faithful one understands that the earth is full of the steadfast love of God and that the poet’s role is to praise this creative love of God which permeates everything.

Structurally the poem is designed to give a sense of completeness. The poem’s 22 lines, mirroring the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet even though the poem is not acrostic, speak a complete message of God’s power and trustworthiness in all of creation. (Actemeir, 1997, p. IV:809) The act of praise is an act of hope and faith, of speaking trust amid a world that trusts in other sources of power. It protests trusting in military might, physical strength, financial resources or political power. The Psalmist can rejoice because at its heart the world is full of the steadfast love of God that nothing can separate the poet from.

The LORD is described as committed to a stance of uprightness, faithfulness, righteousness and justice. The God of the psalmist is not an unmoving or unengaged deity, but one that chooses and defends those who attempt to live in accordance with God’s will for the world. Even though the word shalom (peace, harmony) is not mentioned in this new song the poet lifts before the LORD, it underlies the trust that the one who created and ordered the world protects and guards the one who lives in righteousness and faithfulness. The words of the LORD given through the law and the prophets echo the order that the LORD has spoken into creation itself.

Psalm 33 shares a common vocabulary with Genesis 1, where the creation comes into being and is given form by the word of the LORD. In the beginning when the LORD created the heavens and the earth reverberates as the heavens are created by the word of the LORD and the host are created by the breath of God. The limits for the oceans and sea become playfully like a bottle and the LORD has storehouses that can contain the immeasurable (at least at the time of the psalm’s composition) depths of the oceans. If the world itself is an act of imagination and speaking for the LORD and the seas and the stars find their place due to the word of the LORD, then the promises uttered passed on to the psalmist are a faithful foundation to build the poet’s trust and hope upon. If earth is full of the steadfast love of God, then the psalmist can rest in the comforting embrace of that love.

Philip Melanchthon, one of Martin Luther’s close associates in the reformation, once said, “to know Christ is to know his benefits rather than his natures…” and similarly Rolf Jacobson can parallel:

the Psalter bears witness that to know the Lord is to know the benefits of being in relationship with the Lord, rather than to know the Lord’s natures. In Psalm 33, the emphasis first of all upon the relationship with that the Lord forges with humanity through the act of creation (vv. 6-7, 9, 15) and also upon the special relationship that God forged through Israel through the election of the chosen people. (v.12) (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 319)

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, who trusts in God rather than the military might, financial prosperity or political influence. Faith enables the individual and the faithful ones to see that the benefit of the LORD’s trustworthiness. I’ve said in other forums that I believe that the greatest idol in the United States is security and we are willing to sacrifice almost anything to that idol. We may inhabit a place where great armies and military technology can create incredible damage and vast amounts of death, but ultimately it is the LORD who looks down from heaven who can control the course of humanity. God sees all of humanity, fashions the hearts, observes the deeds, and the eyes of God watches those who trust in the LORD. Nothing can separate them from the seeing eyes and the pervading love of the LORD, not death and not famine nor anything else under the heavens.

The grace of God that can forgive sin and bring about peace and reconciliation is the same steadfast love of God that creates and fills the earth. The word of the LORD, whose utterance brought creation into being continues to shape the hearts of humanity and the course of the nations. Even though might and power may appear to reside in the strength of the military or the wealth contained within the vaults of banks or the political power of various groups these are ultimately illusions. The steadfast love of God fills the earth and faithful ones have learned to rest within this gracious presence of God’s creative might. This praise of the upright and new song of the faithful ones proclaim the trustworthiness of the LORD and stands among the blessed ones chosen for the joyous task of praising the LORD and knowing what the steadfast love of God is creating in their midst.

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Prospectus

 

Looking forward into 2018 I am hopeful. I am trying to make some changes that can make the upcoming year productive and enjoyable. Much like a prospectus informs potential investors of enterprise so they can be informed of what to expect as they invest in it, this prospectus is for the investment of my time, talents, and financial resources to try to accomplish my personal, creative and professional goals going into 2018.

Professional

  1. One of my strongest talents is my ability to teach, particularly adults, and I have invested a lot of time over the last several years in topics I have found rich and rewarding: whether looking at some of the Biblical Studies I have done or work on developing as a person and a leader. I will develop at least two opportunities to share this work (one will be on the book of Exodus which I finished last year) with those who are interested.
  2. I believe that one of the roles church can play in our society is as a place where deep meaning making conversations can be had and dialogue can be modeled. Starting this spring, I plan to do a monthly conversation around issues either in the congregation or in the community. This January I am doing an Interfaith dialogue with Muslim and Jewish faith leaders on issues of sexual harassment and assault after the #metoo movement and how places of faith can be supportive to victims.
  3. I am a good leader and pastor, but I also feel it would be beneficial to have an outside person to consult with as a coach who can challenge and affirm me in my ministry. I am not sure whether this will be someone through the ELCA coaching network or through the Daring Way methodology, but I do think this would be an asset for my growth in the coming year.
  4. I am involved in a lot of different functions as a leader: in my congregation, in my conference and synod, and as the leader for Frisco’s Interfaith community and I realize I need to spread out some the responsibility for these groups. Interfaith is already forming a leadership team so that everything does not fall on my shoulders, but I also plan to be intentional in these other areas in asking other leaders to be responsible for planning and leading parts of what I have done on my own in the past.
  5. My final professional goal has to do with communicating expectations for both my staff, my congregation, and then holding them to those expectations. I found myself dealing with minute details and repetitive tasks that should have been other’s responsibilities last year and rather than let something fail I would shoulder additional responsibility to make things work. I think that my role this year needs to take a step back and work on communicating expectations rather than stepping in to tasks that others are equipped and responsible for doing.

Creativity/ Writing

  1. My schedule has been erratic this year for various reasons, but my desire is to get back into a rhythm where I can spend some time with poetry and other creative writing. Part of my solution for this is a weekly prompt which may come from one of the several online prompts of some of the ideas I wrote down while considering this year like: The four horsemen of the apocalypse (4 prompts based on the characters inspired by the book of Revelation and 4 on Gottman’s 4 horsemen of the apocalypse in relationships), the seven forbidden words (the words supposedly not to be used in the EPA), and then the 7 deadly sins. Also, some of my best poetry has been inspired by other great poems (like To Catch an Albatross which owes its genesis to the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge) so to take something like Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’ and see what ideas come in response.
  2. The one things I have kept reliable is my (almost) weekly reflection on a passage from scripture and I will continue this. Currently I am on Psalm 33 and will go through Psalm 41 (which ends book one of the Psalter) before starting a new book. Not sure which book will be next, I will pick after I complete Psalm 35.
  3. Reading: Oh, there is so much I would love to read and so little time. I am satisfied with the amount I read and what I read. I would love to find another graphic novel series that could serve, like Sandman did in 2017, as a nice break between longer books at home but I have a lot on my shelves awaiting my attention. I would probably benefit from either introducing more poetry, either through books or through a periodical, into my reading cycle.
  4. I enjoyed having an online learning process like the Wisdom of Story and Daring Greatly done through Brené Brown’s Courageworks website (now brought under brenebrown.com) and as I’ve looked at options for this year I think Brave Leaders, Inc. may be my next distant learning opportunity/certification.

Personal

  1. Physically I have set myself the goal of getting down to 202 lbs., which is a drop of 5 lbs. over the year. This shouldn’t be too difficult, and I know what modifications I need to make to accomplish and maintain this goal. I also have set the goal of running 500 miles over the year (which is approximately 10 miles a week).
  2. Pairing with this first goal I will need to take care of my body by doing things like replacing shoes more frequently, controlling my diet more (one of the struggles as a pastor is the number of times when food is involved in gatherings and the temptation to eat in a way that is unhealthy), and continuing to build my core and leg strength to help prevent injuries.
  3. I have enjoyed my garden the past two years and one of my goals is to add a second bed to expand my garden for this year.
  4. I know that resources are limited, for the beginning of the year especially, so I will need to be selective in which events I go to. But I know that musicals and concerts are very important to both myself and Carissa and are things that feed both of our souls.
  5. I need to schedule some of my breaks early. In the past two years I have let everyone else’s schedule dictate the times I could take vacations. Ultimately I need to take advantage of the time I have been given for rest and renewal so that I can be creative professionally and enjoy the time that I have with family.
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Retrospectus

So perhaps I am creating a new word as I try a new practice. For a lot of people, they craft New Year’s resolutions but I am trying a two-part movement of looking back and looking forward and attempting to make an honest evaluation of what happened so that my plan going into 2018 can be based on an evaluation of where I am and where I have been. So, the first part of this I’ve called a retrospectus, a document looking back, and the second part will be a prospectus which is a plan going forward.

Retrospectus 2017

2017 was a challenging year, a good year in many respects, hard in several others and full of unexpected twists and turns.

Professionally: This was a year where it felt like a lot of weight fell on my shoulders. It isn’t that I was alone or I didn’t have other people working with me on various projects, but as a leader it was a year that tested my resilience. It was a year that started full of expectations, we completed the design of the expansion for my congregation and there was a lot of optimism beginning the year. One of the points of drag was the approval process with the city of Frisco. In fairness, due to the sale of some land and the necessity to re-zone our property in addition to having to resubmit both an updated site plan in addition to the plans for expansion it was a complicated set of things going on (while at the same time having the plans and approval process for a stealth cell tower going on at the same time). What was expected to be a six to eight-week process of approval dragged out into almost nine months, much of that time I had very little power to impact the speed of the process. The delay in time also led to an increase in cost of almost $200,000 because of material cost increases over the period. For those who don’t know about the Frisco/McKinney area it is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States and because of that resources like concrete and steel continue to climb in cost due to the regional demand. We the funds available to cover the original cost of expansion but the increase meant working with our lender to secure a loan for the additional costs. In many respects each hurdle wasn’t difficult to pass but it was the sheer number of hurdles that came up before we ever broke ground that seemed to sap some of the energy and enthusiasm of the project. We finally broke ground in the summer and the project was moving along when we reached the next delay prior to pouring the foundation. As I mentioned briefly above we had two projects going on at the same time, the expansion in addition to the construction of a cell tower site (designed to look like a bell tower). The cell tower company was supposed to reroute the sewer lines to go around both the tower and the expansion, but the lines were twelve feet underground, and the ground after about six to eight inches is rock. They built their tower without moving the line and the city of Frisco wouldn’t allow our expansion to continue until the line was moved. This delayed us for another four to six weeks, but the sewer line was eventually rerouted, the work commenced and going into 2018 the project still has some ways to go but we can see the end in sight and I know I am excited to see the end of the process. The crew working on the expansion has been great, but it is impossible for an ongoing construction and renovation process not to impact the life of a congregation.

I also felt like I never got a break this year. Normally summer is a time where I can reset after one year before going into the next but in addition to the building project several other challenges prevented me from doing so. One was staffing related. I only have two additional staff members that are present during the week: one admin and one youth minister. The month of June my admin was unavailable while she was pursuing her passion in opera in New York City, and so the month of June I was doing both my normal roles (with the building project) and ensuring that her portion of the work to prepare the congregation for worship was also done each week. During the same time my youth minister was married and on his honeymoon. Later in the summer my youth minister’s new wife had surgery which had a very extended recovery so through most of the summer I had him available sporadically. Then in the fall my youth minister availability was limited due to Clinical Pastoral Education, a part of his seminary process where he works in a hospital. Finally, in December, for the first two weeks, my administrator was in New York again to perform in an opera during one of the busiest times in the church year. Through the second half of the year it felt like an additional burden of keeping the church going fell upon my shoulders. I was able to take a few breaks in the fall, but ultimately it was a year where I never found a rhythm of rest to go along with the periods of increased work.

Finally, one of the last professional stressors was that in the summer, for the first time, the congregation began to experience some financial stress. Rejoice is a community that deals with a lot of transition and the previous couple of years were heavier than most of the congregation’s life. The congregation had seen approximately 1/3 of its membership move out of the area in less than two years. We had done a lot of things to build in some financial resilience for the congregation, but this level of transition had us seeing negative balances regularly at the end of the month for the first time in the four year I had served them. Construction impacts attendance as well as the number of new families that visit or stay with a congregation. It was a time when I had to evaluate my own leadership. We made some hard choices, but I feel optimistic about the future for the congregation and some of the directions we set at the end of the year.

There were a lot of cool things professionally this year: Probably my favorite was the beginning of an Interfaith group for the Frisco area. Even though I felt called to do this I wanted for someone else to begin and lead this. Ultimately, I stepped out and placed the idea before some other leaders. It has been a phenomenal group to be a part of and to lead. I also started as Dean of my conference, the churches of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the Northern suburbs of Dallas up to the Oklahoma border. I also was asked to be a part of one of the advisory committees for Frisco ISD. I’ve enjoyed having a more public presence in the community although at times it does feel like a challenge to keep everything organized.

Writing: I enjoy writing but with all my other commitments in my professional and personal life this year it seems like I didn’t write as much as in previous years. I can tend to be a little overly ambitious sometimes, but writing is one of those activities that I am proud of. There are a couple of really interesting pieces this year. My personal favorites were Djinn’s Warning and To Catch an Albatross. Trying to write some light fiction using my dogs as characters was good (and I realize there are a few holes in the story) but it took a lot of time to write each chapter-but I enjoyed particularly chapters two and three of Shimar the Pirate dog. I also use writing as a part of my learning process to grow in my knowledge as a pastor. This year was primarily spent with the book of Exodus, and I learned a lot from this. It is a longer book, and one that many people know portions of but I know I gained some insights from this process of working through Exodus. Overall there were approximately seventy items written in addition to the weekly sermons, normal publications for church related items, etc. Yet, I feel like some of my creativity has dropped off but I have some ideas for the prospectus side of this.

Personal: I am very blessed to be married to Carissa and even though this was a tough work year for both of us I enjoy the time we are able to spend together. At this point we have been married for 2 ½ years and I am glad she was willing to come join me in this crazy life. The big change for me this year was my son starting college at the University of Central Oklahoma this fall. I have been the primary caretaker and guardian for Aren since 2009, with Jessica living with her mom in Oklahoma. It has been different not adjusting my schedule around his schedule and there are times where the house is quieter than I am used to. I am proud of him but the transition was harder on me than I anticipated. I have paid for his first year of college and that in itself is an accomplishment. Carissa and I went to a number of concerts and musicals this year and I finally went to a (now) LA Chargers game, which I had wanted to do for years. It was an expensive year with needing to put a new roof on my house after the April hail storms and then having my furnace die at Christmas, but I have a new roof on my home and a new HVAC system and somehow have continued to make it all work.

 

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The Book of Psalms

Love is Not a Victory March by Marie -Esther@deviantart.com

Psalm 1: Poetry and Law
Psalm 2: The Lord’s Messiah
Psalm 3: Hope in the Heart of Brokenness
Psalm 4: Finding a Space in the Blessing
Psalm 5: The God Who Hears and Protects
Psalm 6: How Long, O Lord
Psalm 7: The God Who Judges
Psalm 8: The Soul Searcher’s Psalm
Psalm 9: Praising the God of Justice and Might
Psalm 10: Calling on God to be God
Psalm 11: Confident Faith in the Midst of Trouble
Psalm 12: Save Us From Ourselves
Psalm 13: The Cry from the God Forsaken Place
Psalm 14: The Wisdom of Holding to the Covenant
Psalm 15: Entering the Sacred Presence of God
Psalm 16: Remaining Faithful in a Pluralistic Setting
Psalm 17: An Embodied Prayer
Psalm 18: Royal Thanks at the End of the Journey
Psalm 19: Creation, the Law and a Faithful Life
Psalm 20: In the Day of Trouble
Psalm 21: A Blessing for the King
Psalm 22: A Desperate Cry to God
Psalm 23: The LORD as Shepherd, Host and Destination
Psalm 24: The Coming of the LORD
Psalm 25: The Struggle of Faith from Aleph to Tav
Psalm 26: Liturgy of the Falsely Accused
Psalm 27: Faith in an Age of Anxiety
Psalm 28: Can You Hear Me LORD?
Psalm 29: The Thundering Voice of God
Psalm 30: The Life of Praise
Psalm 31: Faith, Questions and the Life of Faith
Psalm 32: A Psalm of Restoration
Psalm 33: The Earth is Full of the Steadfast Love of God
Psalm 34: The Experienced Faithfulness of God
Psalm 35: Lord, Fight for Me in the Struggle

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Psalm 32- A Psalm of Restoration

Sunrise on Halekulani, image from https://www.halekulani.com/packages/sunrise

Psalm 32

<Of David. A Maskil.>
1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

This Psalm has often been categorized as a psalm of penitence but it would probably be better to think of this as a psalm of restoration or a psalm of grace. This psalm deals with forgiveness and the difference between carrying around a hidden sin and the freedom of that sin being confessed and forgiven by the LORD. The psalm begins, like Psalm 1, with the declaration that happy are those (the Hebrew word ‘aŝrê translated as happy has the connotation of blessed and is probably the Hebrew idea that Jesus would use in the Sermon on the Mount to express blessedness). The psalmist begins with two beatitudes declaring that the one who is forgiven and the one who the LORD does not declare immoral or wicked. Here the LORD is the one who covers the sin of the person, where the same word translated as hide in verse five talks about the individual covering up their sin. The psalm puts before the hearer the choice of the freedom of the LORD hiding the transgression and the bondage of hiding the transgression within oneself.

Verses three and four poetically describe the experience of hiding one’s iniquity within oneself. There is a physical and a psychological impact for the psalmist of this sin which they hold inside and the conceal from God and the world. There is a weight that the poet carries, a weariness that saps their energy and strength, a consuming silence that they have imposed on themselves which is slowly consuming them. The weight of the guilt becomes too great and the psalmist moves to the moment of confession where they are immediately set free. They dwell on the impact of the sin hidden, but God’s action at the sin confessed is quick and immediate in the psalm, “and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

There is no movement of penitence, no assigned task of making the relationship right between the sinner and their God, the forgiveness is sudden, graceful and complete. We don’t know the sin that the psalmist confesses but we do sense the joy of the restored relationship in the poetic joy that follows the action of forgiveness. The reception of forgiveness becomes the reason the writer encourages faithful prayer and has a renewed sense of the LORD as their safe place and refuge. Whether the psalmist becomes a teacher giving a proverb in verse eight and nine or perhaps the voice changes to God’s voice, but either way there is a new chance to go in the correct paths without the need for harsh correction or guidance. The psalmist doesn’t need to be led like an animal ridden or pulling a cart for they are now free in their relationship. They are once again among the righteous for their iniquity has been hidden away by God. They now stand in the place of trusting the LORD and they rejoice at the restoration they have felt and received, in the gracious place they now stand within and the forgiveness given once their sin was no longer concealed by them. As Beth Tanner can state, “Just as in Psalm 1, this psalm makes a way of life outside of trust in God the foolish choice. Really, would you rather drag around all your sorrows or be surrounded at all times by God’s hesed? There hardly seems to be a choice at all” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 309) While Psalm 1 presents a choice between the way of the righteous and the wicked, Psalm 32 presents us with the choice between guilt and forgiveness. Within the world of this gracious psalm of restoration the choice is clear.

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