Thursday, March 31, 2011

Trouble With Affliction

by Laura Urban, Board of Deacons

Psalm 102

This psalm of affliction gives me trouble. I read the opening verses, and I realize I am not a person who is “afflicted.” My heart is not “withering like grass.” I am not “too wasted to eat my bread.” These images of affliction continue through the first 11 verses with a graphic, visceral intensity.

This psalm is not my voice.

But I am sure it is the voice of those in the midst of despair and destruction in Japan, Libya, and other areas of the world stricken by disaster, in calamities driven by man or nature. Surely many feel “like an owl of the wilderness, like a little owl of the waste places.” (I picture one who feels forced to search alone in darkness for the basic necessities of life.)

I also feel sure that these verses are the voice of Christ: “All day long my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse.” (v. 8) Jesus knew affliction, loneliness, and despair. It is jarring to remember that Jesus was not the comfortable suburbanite that I am. This Lenten season, it is humbling to meditate on these verses and to enter into His anguish.

Yet, for all its words of affliction, this psalm is one that ends with a note of triumph. Indeed, it is even Christ’s triumph that is celebrated. The author of the Book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 102 (v. 25-27) to introduce his argument that God has exalted Jesus as his Son. Fully consecrating the Incarnation, this author presents the psalm as the words of God the Father to the Son:

In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,

and the heavens are the work of your hands;

they will perish, but you remain;

they will all wear out like clothing;

like a cloak you will roll them up,

and like clothing they will be changed.

But you are the same,

and your years will never end.

(Hebrews 1:10-12; from Ps 102: 25-27)

May we, too, worship at the feet at the one who has known affliction, yet forever endures. Our hope is in the one “who does not wear out like clothing.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who Will Comfort the Afflicted?

by Tom Kaeser, Board of Deacons

Psalm 102

Psalm 102 is another in the series of seven penitential psalms that are traditionally read and prayed during Lent. My Bible footnotes say that the prayer of the unnamed Psalmist is “a prayer of an afflicted man,” one who “is faint and pours out his lament before the Lord,” but it is not entirely clear whether his afflictions are a consequence of his sins, his enemies (presumably the Babylonians), or his own personal struggles and problems. Personally, I have a hard time considering myself “afflicted” by my life circumstances or any enemies (real or imaginary), since I have been abundantly blessed in so many ways, with a good career, home, health, and family. There are many people in our community with real problems — with joblessness, poor health, and broken relationships. What do I really have to complain about or lament? “O, woe unto me, my latte is lukewarm and I’m stuck in traffic”? Please.

My dictionary says penitent means “feeling or expressing remorse for misdeeds.” That sums it up for me when it comes to the penitential psalms. It’s not my circumstances, minor struggles, or enemies, but my sins that I need to lament. As Pastor Ray noted this past Sunday, I need to realize that while I may not sin in the fashion of David with Bathsheba or against Uriah, I am nevertheless a sinner who has turned against God’s ways in my heart and in my actions. I need to spend time repenting those sins, and just as much time giving thanks for all God has given me, and that He has forgiven my sins through the death of Jesus on the cross.

But what other lesson does Psalm 102 have for a Deacon (or anyone else) at First Pres? The Psalmist recognizes that the Lord “will arise and have compassion,” and “will respond to the prayer of the destitute, he will not despise their plea,” and will “hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” But do we just leave it up to the Lord? Doesn’t the Lord also call on us to serve as His hands and heart, and help to comfort those who cry out to Him in their affliction? As James writes, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” Elsewhere, in Matthew, Jesus says “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” – that we are doing this for Him whenever we do this “for the least of these brothers of mine.” What a privilege for all and any of us to have the opportunity to serve in ministries like Souper Saturday, Fellowship Hour, Clothes Closet, Friends in Christ, Angel Tree, or Prison Ministry.

Last Friday, my wife and I had a God-given lesson in affliction. While returning from a concert downtown, I saw a blind man with a service dog approach the platform at Union Station, along with his wife, who was in a wheelchair, while a Metra conductor pulled their large suitcase and directed them to the right train. When the man announced he was headed for the station in our neighborhood, I confess that I had a “lukewarm latte” moment when I realized that it would delay me a couple of minutes while they operated the wheelchair lift on our arrival at the station.

When we got there, the couple disembarked, and then paused for a short time to figure out where to go next. Something told us not to leave. My wife asked them if there was anything we could do to help. The man said he needed to get his wife, their suitcase, and his dog to a nearby intersection where a Pace paratransit van would pick them up. But the van wasn’t due for 40 minutes, so we guided them to a partially enclosed shelter where some infrared heaters might (barely) offset the 30-degree weather. They were wearing light jackets, no gloves or hats. His cell phone went dead after two calls to Pace to see if their ride might arrive early. They didn’t complain, even though the van was another 30 minutes late. As we all waited, we talked some, and my wife and I got to know their dog, Fenway, and learned that they sometimes attended a church in our neighborhood. Frankly, we didn’t do much for them, other than keep them company, and make a couple of calls to Pace. It took us about an hour after we got home to stop shivering. But the experience of Grace can be chilling in many different ways.

As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Complaint, Promise, and Comfort

by Rob Lepley, Board of Deacons

Psalm 102

I had read Psalm 102 and decided to do what I usually do when I’m trying to have a better understanding of what I’m reading: I used my good friend Google to look up some commentaries on this Psalm. It usually helps to provide some insight that I may have missed, and once again I wasn’t disappointed. (“What a friend we have in Google?”...)

The first exegesis that I read on the Christ Notes site was from John Wesley. It provided a line-for-line review about what the Psalmist was trying to tell us here, offering a deeper view of what the penitent was trying to get across to us about suffering and repentance, and I found it a very useful general reading.

The second commentary was from Matthew Henry , and he opened up and clarified the Psalm for me by breaking it into three clearly focused sections:

The first portion dealt with a plainly sorrowful complaint to God. I would choose to term this the “woe-is-me, God” section. Certainly, we have all had times in our life when things look bleak and life has been very painful for us, and we half wonder why God has let such bad things happen to us. But these are also the times when we come to God with the “full court press” of prayer, Bible study, and worship. I’ve had a couple patches in my life where I thought things couldn’t get much worse – as have we all. One of the times I gave my burden completely to God, and the other time I did not, and tried to carry it by myself. The time I gave it to God was a much better experience; it was still painful, but I came through it with spiritual growth and deeper understanding of God and His will and direction in my life.

The second section that Henry cites is encouragement we can take from God’s promises to us. I like to think of this as the “God’s got my back” part. I think when you are going through a bad spell in your life, and you throw yourself into God’s Word, you see so many instances where God has helped others and where he has promised to be with us and help us through those hard times. When we choose to give God our lives, he doesn’t promise an easy life — in fact, he tells us we will have a hard life. But he promises to love us and help us through our life, even the hardest parts. This doesn’t make the bad situation go away, but it can give us peace in knowing God has our back. I know in my daily walk that this has helped me to overcome many difficulties – large and small — that I was going through.

Matthew Henry’s third concentration is on the Unchangeableness of God, the point that God is constant, and it’s us who are always changing, often fickle. When you think about this, it really helps to put your personal issues in perspective. It’s painful for us, but in the grand scheme of things, with God in our hearts, we have to ask, What’s the impact to our everlasting life? God was here way before we were born, and he will be here way after we die. His love and desire to comfort us and be in community with us never changes. It’s we humans who change from issue to issue and forget about Him when life is going good, and then run to him when life deals us a bad hand. Yet in spite of how we react or treat Him, He’s always there to love and forgive us.

Knowing about that type of love helps us to come out of those dark times in our lives. And, really, in the Lenten season, that is practically all we need to know.

Monday, March 28, 2011

May the Love of Christ Disturb You

by Dave Jones, Board of Deacons

Psalm 102

Today, March 28, as it happens, is the 43rd anniversary of the funeral of my father, Richard B. Jones, struck dead in a car crash in the twilight of an early spring evening at the crest of a hilltop on a two-lane highway in central Indiana. (The drunk whose car crushed and shattered my father’s Pontiac in the head-on collision was able to walk away from the wreckage. In his coffin, before the funeral, my father’s remains looked surprisingly young, trim, lithe and “healthy” for a middle-aged businessman, husband, and father of three: to me, in that final glimpse, he looked like pictures I’d seen of him when he was about the age I was then, which was 18.) Almost everything I could ever know about the tortured spirit in which the “faint,” “afflicted” Psalmist “pours out his lament before the Lord” in Psalm 102 would come to me in reflection on the feeling of the terrible, aching void that opened up deep in my soul on those bleak, bitter March days, now so long ago.

At that time I could not think of “penitence” or God’s “righteous wrath” being visited on me – as the Davidic Psalmist does – all I could know in my bones was my own existential loss and pain. And, actually, on reflection, that is a way in which this Psalm hits me harder and resonates more deeply now than it did at the time of that death: Not believing, in my youth, that God could have anything to do with such dumb or tragic fate is, superficially, a much easier mind-set to live with than the certain, day-to-day knowledge that the Lord is involved in everything about us. Our failures, pains, debilities and sorrows, and ultimately our own inevitable deaths as well. To realize that, finally, in fully mature faith, is always a cause and a call to throw down in prayer:

“Hear my prayer, O, Lord;
let my cry for help come to you.

Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.
For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.”

For, in the end, as the Psalmist surely knew in his soul, our repentance and our prayers are all we have that really matters. As our former pastor Dave Handley once quoted theologian Martin Marty in a sermon following the horrors of September 11, 2001: “ ‘In dark times like these, the bad news is that all we have to rely on is Jesus Christ. But the good news is that all we have to rely on is Jesus Christ.’”

(And that same good news is good today in Japan, Libya, Yemen – wherever and however the world may turn. Even in Chicago.)

At this time of year, in Lent, as Christians, how grateful we must be for the perfect living example of Jesus. Here we have a God who not only hears our prayers but comes to live among us, and in us, not only to empathize with our fears, griefs, and pains – and tears — but to experience them with us. In the dark realm of our sins, to experience and expiate them for us. And to show us the Love of the Father which will sustain and carry us with Him beyond the fate of the grave, throughout eternity. In the presciently luminous words of the Psalmist:

“…your years go on through all generations.
In the begininng you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain… remain the same, and your days will never end.
The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you.”

One cold autumn evening, half a lifetime ago, my own son and I were walking out of a coffee shop on Central Street in Evanston, just having finished a lengthy school homework session over lattes and hot cocoas, when we were approached by a somewhat raggedy-looking middle-aged man in a smudgy, thermal-quilted work jacket. Uh-oh, I thought – a panhandler, and began to guide my boy away from the approaching stranger on the sidewalk. Flushed with shared laughter and sweet drinks and the steamy warmth inside the coffee shop, stepping outdoors we must have looked like a Norman Rockwell picture of suburban easy money. But this man, this night, wasn’t talking to us about money. He wasn’t panhandling us. This strange, tobacco-smelling man, he walked up and asked us if we’d been thinking about Jesus lately, and when I rather too blithely said something to the effect that I was thinking about Jesus “all the time,” he reached out and put his long, strong arms around us both, and said, “I hope for your souls’ sake that is true.” Then he stepped back, looked me in the eyes, looked down at my beautiful little boy, and he smiled a quiet smile and said, “May the love of Christ disturb you.”

And, believe me, please, brothers and sisters, it has. He has. The love of Christ has disturbed me ever since. I wish I’d had more awareness of it with me when my father died. That terrible disturbance that could have awakened me to the great depths of the soul that Psalm 102 is calling us to, warning us away from, to turn only to the loving, forgiving atonement of the Lord.

As it is, as a Deacon, this Psalm is a clear lantern vision into the broken heart and fallen spirit of every needy fellow human we Deacons are called in our service to minister to. In our church basement Clothes Closet. In Christmas gifts for the children of prisoners, school supplies for children of the poor. Mother’s Day remembrances for mothers who must hide in women’s shelters. The Lord’s Communion feast served at home for those too old or infirm to travel to our sanctuary. Thank God for disturbing us with the sight of our own brokenness and ultimate need.

Thank God for showing us the path Jesus chose to walk – with us — every step of the way to the incalculable suffering of the Cross.

In verse eight, the Psalmist might have been describing a day on Golgotha, “All day long my enemies taunt me, those who rail against me use my name as a curse.”

Thank God for that Name, from the lineage of the oft-afflicted Psalmist, David, stump of Jesse.

Thank you, Jesus.


Friday, March 25, 2011

A Psalm Full of Emotion

by Molly Crane, Junior at Evanston Township High School

I have a problem: when I read my Bible, I tend to allow a certain voice called "Mr. Monotone" to read it for me. I heard it said once that if you get the same feeling when you read Galatians (which opens with Paul being very concerned) as when you read Philippians (which opens with Paul being very thankful), Mr. Monotone is reading for you. When I first looked at Psalm 51, I let Mr. Monotone read and I missed out on a great deal. This is a Psalm in which David is crying out for mercy, not gazing ponderously out a window. Pushing Mr. Monotone to the side, I was able to hear David's emotions and relate to his pain.

David’s raw emotion comes through in verse 11 where he says, "Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me." There is a simple illustration that helps me understand David’s emotions: The parent of a child who is misbehaving in a store begins to walk away from the child, and of course an eruption of tears begins. The child feels that it is possibly the worst moment of their life; not only do they know that they’ve misbehaved, they are feeling abandoned by the person that their life depends on completely. David’s situation is far more weighty and, knowing that a life without God is so hopeless it is unimaginable, he is pleading desperately that God not abandon him for his sinful acts.

Psalm 51 is said to be "A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after committing adultery with Bathsheba." If you haven't read the story of David and Bathsheba, check it out in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. I love in chapter 12 how Nathan, long advisor to the king and follower of the Lord, uses a parable to make David aware of his sin. Have you ever heard the saying 'we detest in others what we find in ourselves?' When David hears Nathan’s parable of a man who violated justice and acted wrongly, he responds “As surely as the Lord lives, this man deserves to die!” "And really, as verses 5 and 6 in the psalm depict, we all deserve this fate. We are “sinful from birth” and in desperate need of a God who is loving, able, and willing to “cleanse [us] with hyssop… [and] make [us] white as snow.” After David realizes that he is the man in Nathan's parable, he says in verse 13 "I have sinned against the Lord." And Nathan replies in the most honest fashion, (and who could ever hear better words?) “The Lord has taken away your sin."

Something I love about this Psalm is the juxtaposition of God’s unfailing love against David’s sinfulness. David first acknowledges who God is ("Your unfailing love") and then identifies himself based on that. This is as it should be; the truest thing about one's identity is based on the Truth that is within him. David bares himself openly before God (as if his sin could be hidden from Him) and says he knows his sin. David knows that God is powerful and just, and that, as a sinner, he is in a bad place. He knows the adultery and murder he has committed weren’t just bad things to do to other people, but sins against God ("It is against You and You only that I have sinned”).

It is also clear that David is in a RELATIONSHIP with God. This is another problem of mine when I approach my Bible-I sometimes sit down and think of reading it as "getting it done" as opposed to being in a relationship with my Heavenly Father. David speaks to God as someone who knows him completely (“surely I was sinful at birth…You desired faithfulness even then"), and as someone who has a hold on David's heart. Verses 1-12 are David's appeals to God; from verse 13 on he shifts the focus to the people around him. David receives God's mercy, and then goes to share it with others. He asks for God's help in doing this, and after covering that front, he moves on to praise. So there is this pattern of pleading, receiving, giving, praising. How often do we follow this pattern? The face-down pleading is often watered down to a fearless murmur, we often receive and receive without ever giving, and our praising is less genuine because we don't feel the massive gratefulness and relief of God's forgiveness. The less I come face to face in acknowledgment of my sin, the less joy I feel in God's salvation. If there’s anything I can say regarding Psalm 51, it’s to not let Mr. Monotone rob you of the joy that David is begging for here!

Click here for a song version of parts of this Psalm

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Seven Times Seventy-Seven = Not Enough Forgiveness

by Connor Phelan, Junior at Regina Dominican High School

As I read through Psalm 51, I am reminded of the countless hours I spent both in Sunday School and at home watching episode after episode of Veggie Tales. It’s so interesting to me now that I look back and think about how a group of limbless, talking, vegetables were able to help teach me about God’s message. Thinking about those vegetables, I specifically remember the episode in which Bob the Tomato read a letter he and Larry the Cucumber had received from a young boy asking about sin. After explaining right versus wrong and the basics of sin, Bob proceeded to say that we could ask for God’s forgiveness whenever we had committed a sin, but that we would only be forgiven seven times seventy-seven times. I couldn’t believe it. There I was, just a mere six or seven year old wanting to play with my friends, please my parents, go about my life normally and here was a tomato telling me I better not mess up too much before I get too old, because God’s counting.

Believe it or not, I believed that tomato for many years.

It wasn’t until two years ago during my freshman year of high school when I started confirmation classes and was asked to challenge my faith that I started to really consider where I was on my faith journey, and what things like sin really meant to me. So when I read over Psalm 51, not only am I struck with childhood memories, but also a new view of sin.

The whole Psalm, to me, gives the impression of a cry for help to God from a sinner. But who is that sinner? That sinner is each and every one of us. We were each created in the image of God, but we are also sinners and flawed humans. But this doesn’t mean that God dislikes us because we often times get it wrong, it means our faults give us even more opportunities to turn to God and grow closer in our relationship with Him. As the Psalm says, we were sinners even before we were born, but God also took the time to instill love into our hearts and minds so that one day when we grew up, we would find the love of Christ and turn to Him in times of need, like after we sinned.

What Psalm 51 is saying is that we’re humans, we get it wrong, and we try our best to fix things before they get worse. But really, nothing can truly be fixed without the helping hand of God. God is always there, right beside us, even when we misstep. The Psalm is encouraging us to come forward to God with whatever is on our hearts, no matter how immoral the sin, and turn over what we’ve done wrong. It’s telling us to ask God to mark out our sins and turn our hearts away from committing any further sins. The final piece, and perhaps the most fascinating, is that the Psalm tells us that after we have poured out our hearts, we should rejoice and worship in God’s goodness, because He has forgiven us and we have been set free from our errors.

And this is what I love about our God. He implants love into our flawed souls, and knows that as humans, we will fall down…a lot. But there is never a time when God turns His back because of something we did incorrectly. God is continually pouring out His love and forgiveness for us, and it is up to us to choose whether to accept or reject that forgiveness. When we truly come forward to God and are honest, we can be forgiven even more than seven times seventy-seven times, because God loves us that much, and will never stop loving us.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Everyone Needs A Nathan

by Dwayne Dobschuetz, High School Sunday School Teacher

Psalm 51

As I look at Psalm 51, many passages are familiar that I have often used in my own admissions of wrong actions.

"Have mercy on me!

Blot out my sin!

Restore the joy of your salvation!

Create in me a clean heart!"

But as I read it today, new words struck me before I got into the meat of the passage. This was a Psalm of David written after the prophet Nathan went to him. I flipped back to 2 Sam 12:1 and started to refresh myself on the story behind the Psalm. It starts with the phrase that Nathan was sent by the Lord to speak to David. I realize I have needed a Nathan more than once in my life who could come alongside me and speak God's truth to me. Nathan reminded David of God's faithfulness, blessing, and future promises, yet wasn't hesitant about pointing out where David had stepped out and done wrong. It was only through Nathan's faithful ministry that God was able to get through to David. After delivering the hard news, Nathan stuck with him and continued to bless and be a presence in his life. How do I know this? David shares in vs 13 "Then I will teach transgressors (like me) your ways, and sinners (like me) will return to you." He both learned it and how to do it from Nathan!

I pray that I might have a Nathan in my life, as I have had at various points in my life, sensitive to God's leading, helping me stay on the path. As I think about it the even greater challenge would be to be a Nathan to another, but thankfully that's not a job that I apply for but one, like Nathan, that would be a "calling from God."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Reflection on Sin

by Rachel Jones, Sophmore at ETHS

Psalm 51

At the ripe old age of sixteen, I am completely willing to acknowledge my confusion with various aspects of religion, the Presbyterian Church, and God. While there have been great stretches of time where I’ve attended church religiously, there have also been times when I’ve been so frustrated and confused that I figured there were better things that I could do with my Sunday mornings. I’m at this age right now where I’m supposed to be questioning everything I’ve been raised to think so that I can figure out my own beliefs, and very few ideas have stayed completely concrete. There is, however, one thing that I have remained confident on. I don’t care how old you are, what you do for a living, or anything, because no matter how different we might seem, you and I have something in common: in God’s eyes, we’re sinners.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) David himself said in this passage that from birth until death, we’re always sinning, because no matter how much we try to do good things in the world, we’re still constantly disappointing God. I think this is a really interesting part of our beliefs, and also a super important one, because despite the fact that we’ve done all of this really horrible stuff—no matter how minor or major—God loves us anyway and has already forgiven us. Even though He could have some extensive list of things for us to do before we can truly be forgiven, all that God wants is for us to love Him, to tell others about Him, and how much He’s done in our lives.

Of all of the various beliefs and ideals that I’ve encountered having to do with Christianity, this is probably the first one that I really became comfortable with. I still see evidence of it every day—in the jealous look that I see a girl giving someone else who’s dating the boy she’s interested in, or in the sarcastic, rude remark about some crazy girl that leaves my friend’s mouth before he realizes that he was even thinking it. God’s forgiveness for simple things like that, and for much more substantial things, has never even crossed my mind as something to question.

But as much as I feel that this is an admirable part of our religion—having faith that God is going to forgive us for all of the bad things that we do—I feel like it also can be construed as somewhat of a cop-out. Some might say “Oh, God’s forgiven me, I can do whatever I want to and it won’t matter.” And I think it’s very important that people not forget that while we are sinners just by being, it doesn’t mean we can go about life not caring about our sins; I’ve seen far too many kids, even grown-ups, acting like it means exactly that.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Psalm 51: For Kings, and For Us

by Heather Millikan, Sophmore at ETHS

If you were to approach someone with Psalm 51, they might not recognize all of it. You will make it as far as verse ten before they say, “Oh! Yes, I know this one!” Why? Psalm 51, verse 10 says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Everyone knows that line. Absolutely everyone. And if you don’t? Well… I don’t know what to say to you.

Psalm 51 is a song of forgiveness, acceptance, and brutal reality. David knows that what he and Bathsheba did was wrong. He probably knew he was wrong before he did anything. The fact that he admits it in this Psalm is utterly amazing, though. A great King, guided by God, chose to publicly proclaim his sins. And then… then God took him back and forgave him.

It makes me wonder. God went through this with David and still forgave him. But he doesn’t just do this for the King of Israel; he does it for all of us. He will create the pure heart and clean spirit that David cries for in verse seven in all of us. There is nothing that God won’t do for us. This is a great revelation. He will accept our repentance in return for love and praise. He will even accept it again if we fail the first time. This is the promise that he demonstrates through the acceptance of our confessions.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

And He will. Every time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Between a Rock and a Good Place

by Andrew Warden, Worship Ministry Council Member

Psalm 38

Recounting his woes in Psalm 38, King David goes a long way in reminding us of the taste of guilt before specifying in verse 12 the persecution occasioning his words. Only at this point do we realize the poem's vital distinction between divine and human wrath. In verses 1 through 11, David sings of the Lord's wrath piercing him like deadly arrows, dissolving his bones like sudden osteoporosis, horrifying him and others like festering wounds, devastating him like personal tragedy. This is the maximum; the pits.

All this though, just as an introduction. What has appeared as a plea for relief from these sufferings then turns out to be an affirmation of them. It is not his God's punishment, but his enemies' persecution that he is sure he does not deserve. And his defense is that like anyone, he seeks "only to do what is good". The flaring up of his enemies' aggression is the immediate problem, not the state of sin. The state of sin is a fact of life. It's even a blessing in the context of heartfelt confession, because it allows us to know God's forgiveness and salvation.

I really don't want to - and don't - go around fully trying to appreciate how un-Christlike I am. And that's pretty scary. How oblivious, how blithe will I become, and for how long, before I find myself in a situation so troubling that I can feel honestly and accurately rotten about my unjustifiable selfishness? Right now, I would guess I'm about 75% blind to how good a person I could stand to become, but this psalm reminds me that the true figure's probably upwards of 99.9%. David's tormented supplication reassures me that one's earthly downfall is an occasion for transformation in the Lord.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Ache of Sin

by Chris Kusek, Audio Visual Coordinator

Psalm 38

Reading Psalm 38, I’m instantly struck by how truly horrible David feels as a result of his sin, whatever that may be. His “wounds stink,” there is no “soundness in [his] flesh.” I’m struck by a sense of curiosity - either David has committed some horrendous, unspeakable sin, or he’s really overreacting here.

But there’s a third option - it could be that David’s relationship with God is much stronger than mine is. I find myself thinking - what if this sin that David is so distraught over is actually something we today would consider pretty minor (or maybe not even sinful)? Maybe he told off a good friend or skipped temple because he felt a little under the weather or cursed God in casual conversation. I don’t know if I’m alone in my desire to hypothesize on the nature of David’s sin, and maybe it’s just my way of relating this Psalm to my daily struggles, but I like the idea that this sin or sins is something that we all might do on a regular basis. The reason is this:

If the sin that caused David this sort of agony is a minor one, think about the love and faith in God that demonstrates. I think we tend to take God’s forgiveness for granted, and use Jesus’ death for our sins as a way avoid guilt for our numerous minor transgressions (He already forgave us, so it’s not that big of a deal)

I know that I do this all the time. Just the other day, a homeless person approached me on the street and asked me for a meal. Not even money, but an honest meal. And I walked by apologetically, even though it was well within my means to provide one $7 meal for this man. I thought of David’s anguish in this Psalm and also thought of Jesus’ words: “Whatsoever you do to the least of My people, that you do unto Me.” I briefly found myself deeply apologetic and asked God to forgive me for what - on any other day - might not even register in my mind.

And I think that’s the beauty of this Psalm. It teaches us to be more appreciative of the forgiveness God has given us and to consider the fact that God is a living Being that - though we believe He won’t - has the ability to withdraw his grace from our lives at any minute. To have a true and deep love for God is to fear losing Him and the gifts that He gives his undeserving worshipers.

For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me...Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


by Yaw Bediako, Worship Ministry Council member

Psalm 38

As I read the passage (Psalm 38) the song "Gravity" by Shawn Mcdonald just happened to come to my attention. Here is the youtube link to this song:

None of us can escape the pull of gravity, much the same way we can't escape the pull of sin. No matter how hard we try, we are powerless against our bondage to sin. The Psalmist appears to have come to this realization and cries out to the only one who can save him.
"For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me...I am troubled by my sin...O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savior".

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Psalm 38: "I Confess My Iniquity"

by Laura Jones, Worship Ministry Council member

Psalm 38: “I Confess My Iniquity”

In Psalm 38 David cries out in his sinfulness to the Lord. David knows who he is—a sinner—and he knows who God is—a perfect and holy God. David’s petition reminds me of the first Beatitude that Jesus gave in his sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” David understands that he is spiritually bankrupt, and fully aware of his sinfulness. Before the wrath of God he feels as if arrows are piercing him, and that the hand of God has come down upon him. “My guilt has overwhelmed me,” he says, “like a burden to heavy to bear.”

Jesus invites all sinners to come to him, for he will lift our burdens, the burden of sin. “Come unto me, says the Lord, “and I will give you rest.” It is David’s trust in God that allows him, even in his despair and pain, to cry out to heaven for mercy and relief, for redemption and salvation. His words are simple: “Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savior.”

David confesses fully to God. One question every soul might ask of itself, is “Have I confessed fully?” David is ashamed, plagued by the wounds of sin that fester and literally make him sick. “There is no health in my body.” But David’s petition is that of one who knows God. He knows that God sees him fully in the depths of his heart, but he also knows that he can come to God in his shame because he knows who God is.

David’s psalm is a heart-wrenching cry. But when one recognizes one’s sinfulness, one’s poverty of spirit, and lays that all before the Lord, God is swift in his mercy, grace, and forgiveness. One looks down one moment in despair over one’s life, and the next instant is brought by God into the kingdom of heaven. Confession, as they say, is good for the soul.

David’s psalm, though it seems to be about his misery, is also a portrait of God. God has placed David in a refiner’s fire to make David fully aware of his mournful condition. And David sees that God is the one, the only one, who can “answer” his petition for mercy. He promises, “I will wait for you, O Lord.” For David knows that God will not forsake him. David’s trust is such that he ends his prayer with the simple cry of faith and trust, “Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savior.”

For that is who God is : our Savior. God will redeem us from all unrighteousness, all sin, all the messy little failures that can ruin our lives if we let them. Yet God will forgive, and more, he promises to forgive, to remove sins as “far as east is from the west.” The old will pass away, and we will be a new creation.

Believe the words of our Lord, as modeled by his servant David: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Waiting on the Lord

by Peg Forbes, Worship Ministry Council Chair, Elder

Psalm 38

Whew! Not sure I have read Psalm 38 before, but if so, I imagine I read it quickly and said, "Enough of that, Lord!" Engaging with this somber psalm of guilt now, I am forced to see the heavy burden of my sin once more and the need to wait quietly before God, as David does in verse 15. It's a lesson I've been a long time learning.

Waiting on the Lord--much of my life this was a part of Christianity I never got. The world was moving fast and I wanted to move with it. No time for true reflection and penitence on the state of my soul--quick confession and prayer for redemption and I was on my way again, often only to repeat the same sins.

And those sins, I have since discovered, were mostly related to my unwillingness to slow down, to wait quietly before the Lord. I spoke hurtful words in anger or frustration or pride, not thinking of their effect on others. I allowed myself to be tempted into situations I was not comfortable with because I didn’t wait first on the Lord to guide me. So many times, as I look back on my life, David’s words of guilt and brokenness aptly describe my state.

I suspect that many of us have this problem. Waiting is not something we do well, whether it’s waiting in grocery lines or at the post office; waiting for replies to our emails or in traffic--we have things to do, people to meet, places to go! God reminds us in the Psalms, however, that while we “go nowhere by accident,” as Pastor Ray says, still, when we get there, taking the time to wait quietly on the Lord may help us to refrain from past sins and truly do God’s work in that place.

So, I am learning, I am changing. And now the Psalm I have adopted as my own is the corollary to David’s cry in Psalm 38. It is his own Psalm 62, verses 5 and 6, in which he says,

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,

for my hope is in Him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation,

my fortress where I will not be shaken. (NLT)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Prayers of Confession

by Kristin Devine Mueller,
Interim Director of Children's Ministries

Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed—by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

I grew up in a church where we recited this prayer every Sunday in church as part of our corporate liturgy. Even as I type this blog entry, the words come back to me in a familiar and easy way.

That’s right—easy—it was easy to say this prayer as a child. I understood it, and I understood where I had fallen short of God’s commands. I was taught from a young age that everyone sins—in our thoughts, in our words, in our actions. We do things we shouldn’t, and we don’t do the things we should. I didn’t love God with my whole heart—there were things I wanted more than God. I didn’t love my neighbors as myself—there were some who became the target of class jokes, and rather than stand up for them, I laughed with the rest.

It was also easy to say this prayer because we said the same thing, week after week, and I had a great memory. If I chose to, I could rattle off this prayer, and listen to the cadences of the voices around me, rather than focus inward on my own thoughts and need for confession. While the prayer was easy to understand, it was hard to face the images that flashed through my mind, of all the ways I had failed God.

What I love about speaking our confession aloud in church, though, is that shortly after, the pastor would speak words of forgiveness to us. I didn’t have to sit for the rest of the service, reliving and remembering my sins. I was forgiven!

“Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide. I said, ‘I confess my faults to the Lord,’ and you took away the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5, NAB)

While it may be difficult to face our inward selves and the reality of our sin during times of corporate confession, it is only in doing so that we can fully experience the forgiveness that God offers to us. In this forgiveness, we find freedom from the guilt of our sin, and this freedom brings us deeper into new life with Christ.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Parallels...Psalm 32 and the Israelites

by Susan Hood, Children's Ministry Team member

I am always amazed by the congruency of lessons, messages and experiences in my life. Perhaps my too small view of God is to blame. This week as I prepare for Lent I am assigned to blog about Psalm 32. I am also studying Isaiah 48 in Bible Study Fellowship. In my life, I am experiencing a season of “What should I do now Lord?” that has come at the end of a long season of concurrent personal trial and fulfilling service.

There are some interesting parallels between David’s affliction caused by unrepentant sin recorded in Psalm 32 and Israel’s captivity by the Babylonians due to their unrepentant sins that is prophesied by Isaiah. Both trials are a result of stubbornness (“Do not be like the horse or the mule”, Psalm 32:9 and “for I know how stubborn you were”, Isaiah 48:4) and refusal to acknowledge God as sovereign. Both David and the people of Judah had full access to God’s commands and expectations (“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go” Psalm 32:8 “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you” Isaiah 48:17) but neither understood how serious it was to put their own desires first until they experienced the consequences. David’s bones wasted away and his strength was sapped as he groaned in pain. The Israelites experienced the loss of home and family, fiery furnaces, pits of lions and heavy yokes of servanthood. Both then experienced the intense relief of God’s grace, forgiveness and intervention. David’s confession led to God blessing him and relieving his physical pain in a way that caused him to rejoice and sing! Isaiah prophesied that the Israelites would shout with joy and tell the world of their redemption when they were freed to return to Jerusalem.

I have spent the last year quietly rejoicing in the peace and healing that has come after two years of joblessness, court battles, and marital strife. At my husbands urging I have chosen to take a season off from service. I admit I have not been patient with this and have frequently asked God “so what’s next?” and “how about that?” My answer has been “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). I have felt like a petulant child fighting against the idea of sitting still with God and even with doing my daily Bible study. My stubbornness has bled into other areas of responsibility and relationship until I began to feel as David, “sapped”. This week I finally looked up the verse and found that “be still” is preceded by the command to “come and see what the Lord has done” (Psalm 46:8). In addition the Hebrew word translated as “be still” means to “let drop” or “slack”. I have been too busy trying to figure out what work I (and the poor people who live with me) should do that I did not realize it was right in front of me in the lessons from Isaiah and Israel’s history. So this Lenten season I am choosing to drop my busy hands and go slack and “see what the Lord has done”.

This season of Lent is a gift of time to remember. Remember the ways that David and the Israelites experienced God’s grace. Remember that God’s intervention and forgiveness, which has been given to His people throughout history, culminates with the death of Jesus on the cross. Remember that His death has “covered our sins” so they no longer "count against" us. This season is a magnificent blessing, take time to reflect.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Parent's Perspective on Psalm 32

by Lisa Limburg-Weber, Children's Ministry Council secretary

My three children give me plenty of opportunity to review (again and again) the biblical principles of healthy relationships: “Tell him you were wrong.” “Tell her you forgive her.” “What do you need to do to make it right with your brother?” And, my favorite, “You might feel like hitting him, but that’s never the best way of solving your problem.” From my vantage point as a relationship coach (unpaid, unfortunately!), I find myself reading Psalm 32 from a different perspective.

In this psalm, David peels back the surface of his devotional life, sharing again—for our benefit—the lessons God has written on his heart. “Let me give you some good advice; I'm looking you in the eye and giving it to you straight,” says David in verse 8 (The Message).

The pain of distance from God due to unconfessed sin is real, David tells us. It wastes our bones, dries our strength, keeps us in misery by day and by night. But just as real is the forgiveness God offers, and oh, the joy of being right with God! It’s one of those moments of clarity for David, when the beauty of being reconciled with God overflows into thanksgiving and the desire to share the happiness of his relationship with God with others.

And so I see again, as I do so often as a parent, that the relational lessons my children are learning are the same ones God needs me to understand: Be real, humble, and honest before me! Hurry to confess and make things right, before your peace is consumed by bitterness! Revel in the happiness of right relationship with your Deliverer!

May we, in this Lenten season, not miss the sweetness of the simple lessons that every child of God needs to hear—again, and again, and again.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Saved... but from what?

by Elizabeth Curry,
Children's Ministry
Team member and M&M Choir Director

I grew up in a Christian home and have been a Christian all my life, making it “official” at the age of 7 at a Billy Graham Crusade. It has been a blessing to always know God’s love, and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. But, for those of us who were “good Christian kids” there is also a little problem: We don’t really believe that there was all that much sin to take away.

As a child and for much of my early adult life, I could always find something to confess at the proper time. But these were superficial things, little things. They were not great big ugly transgressions… the kind that make for really interesting testimonies. I led a quiet Christian life, with no great big sins, but no great acts of faith, either.

Without a real sense of one’s sin, the Gospel is eviscerated. In my head I knew I needed a savior. After all, I wasn’t perfect. But I only needed a little savior. All that changed when we stepped out in faith and became adoptive parents. I thought God was using me to bring love to a child, when in fact He was using the child to show me His love.

The road to my son and I learning to love each other was hard. His negative emotions stirred my own and I felt things that I didn’t know I could feel. It was as though I could suddenly peer into the depth of my own soul and what I saw horrified me. I could no longer pretend I was the “good girl”.

But, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Psalm 32:1, ESV) For the first time in my life I saw that I did indeed need a savior who could cover my sin, because for the first time I saw my sin as it really was. It has changed my life. Because how could I not proclaim my love for a God who would take all that ugliness I saw within myself and not only love me anyway, but love me so much that He would make it vanish by heaping it onto Himself?

“but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:10b-11 ESV)