Chapter-a-Day Psalm 26

photo by usfwsnortheast via Flickr

Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me.
    Test my motives and my heart.
Psalm 26:2 (NLT)

The other morning in the Wall Street Journal there was a fascinating article about the difficulty in erasing human bias from judging Olympic events. As flawed human beings we tend to pre-judge and judge others without much thought or effort. In our every day lives we are very good at Olympic-style judging of others while being very poor at judging with fairness, justice and objectivity.

Maybe that’s why Jesus was so adamant in demanding that we don’t judge others:

  • Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV)
  • “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:36 (NIV)

Years ago I went through a divorce after seventeen years of marriage. One of the most difficult aspects of that agonizing stretch of my journey was how quickly I heard and experienced the judgement of friends, family, neighbors and strangers who convicted me in their minds without knowledge, examination, conversation, evidence, or trial. To this day I can experience the rippling effects of those human judgements in silly ways.

Because we all tend to judge and pre-judge others imperfectly, we also tend to experience the judgement and prejudice of others in one way or another. It’s part of the human experience. Through the period of my divorce I learned to make my appeals to God, just like the writer of the lyrics in today’s Psalm. I can’t control the judgement of others, but I can make my appeal to God who is the only Judge who counts for eternity.  I can’t stop others from making skewed and false judgements of me, but God has required that I forgive those who do.

Today, I’m echoing David’s appeal and asking God to examine and test my heart and motives. I’m reminding myself to give up any senseless effort to control what others think, do and say about me. I’m choosing to forgive those who have chosen to sit in judgement of my life like a biased Olympic judge holding up their score on a placard.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 25

from dnas2 via Flickr

O Lord, I give my life to you.
Psalm 25:1 (NLT)

I spent the past few mornings on the dock in conversation with my friend, Matthew. As is always the case with Matthew, the conversation meandered like a trail through the woods. We ducked in and out of different subjects and took turns leading. As I look back across the terrain of words that we traversed in our communication, it seems to me that there was a theme that rose out of the constant give and take which was this: the kingdom of God runs opposite of the kingdom of this world and we often miss the most obvious of differences to our detriment.

Perhaps that’s why David’s opening lyric in today’s Psalm jumped off the page at me. It is such a blunt statement of commitment: “I give my life to you.” How often do we approach God about what we expect God to give us?

“Give me safety.”
“Give me health.”
“Give me wealth.”
“Give me a spouse.”
“Give me a child.”
“Give me a job.”

Don’t get me wrong and hear what I am not saying. God makes it clear that He wants us to bring our requests to him. Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive.” I believe, however, that David understood an important principle of Kingdom economics. There is a relationship between giving and receiving. The more we give ourselves completely to God, the more capacity we have to receive the fullness of what He has for us. If we are miserly towards God with our heart, soul, spirit, body, and possessions – then we will be so full of ourselves and the stuff of this world as to have little or no capacity to receive anything God has to give us out of the fullness of His Kingdom.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 24

1998ish - Clint's room - screens & clutter - 1
1998ish – Clint’s room – screens & clutter – 1 (Photo credit: Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL))

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
    The world and all its people belong to him.
Psalm 24:1 (NLT)

My brother has lived what I would describe as a nomadic life. Having spent most of his adult life going to and living where the work is (which for him has been all over the world) he has by necessity scattered the stuff of life around at various places. There are a few things of his that are in my keeping. In some cases, they have been in my keeping a good long while. I use the phrase “In my keeping” deliberately because while they are not mine I am responsible for them while they are with me. In my keeping implies that I’m taking care of them for him.

Ownership and possession are interesting concepts. If you’re like me, you don’t take time to think about them very often. Perhaps it’s because as a people we’ve become so addicted to owning things and possessing things. We enjoy the luxury of ownership for so much that we easily dismiss irresponsibility and as both a right and privilege.

Throughout God’s Message we are reminded that possession and ownership are an illusion of this life. In God’s economy we own nothing. It all belongs to Him – every thing – everything. In God’s economy, I no more own any single thing I possess than my brother’s guitar which is in my keeping. But, like my brother’s guitar, every thing I possess is in my keeping. I am responsible for it.

Today, I’m grateful for all of that God has allowed to me have in my keeping. I am humbled to think how irresponsibly I have handled much of it. I am so blessed that the amount of things in my keeping is almost entirely up to me. I am reminded that the responsibility of having too many things in my keeping can take up so much time, energy and mindshare that I neglect more important, personal and eternal matters of my soul.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 23

Quiet conversation on the dock.

he leads me beside quiet waters….
Psalm 23:2b (NIV)

My friends and family know that life has been a little bit of crazy for Wendy and me this summer. Nothing bad, mind you. Thank God, we are well and the craziness has not been the result of tragedy or ill circumstance. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. Business for us has been the best it’s been since the recession began in 2008. New projects seem to pop up unexpectedly. Our little community theatre, where we both serve as board members, is producing some great shows, was recently awarded for an outstanding show, and has a silver anniversary celebration coming up for which we’re largely responsible. Our Playhouse has been buzzing with activity this summer which requires some unique work and stress of its own. We are are so blessed at the moment.

On the back door of our house is a mezuzah. If you don’t know to look for it, you might not notice it’s there. It’s a small box that, in the Jewish tradition, is fixed to the door post of your house to remind you of God’s message as you go in and out. Our mezuzah is ceramic, and I bought it in a little hole-in-the-wall shop off the narrow streets of Old Jerusalem in Israel. Inside the mezuzah are various verses from God’s Message. Along with the traditional verses, Wendy and I each picked out a few of our own to put in there when we hung it a few years back.

Calling Wendy from my hotel last night, she asked me if I remember the verses she picked to put in there. I did not. She reminded me that one of the verses says:

Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. Malachi 3:10b (NIV)

With that we spent a few minutes counting and naming our blessings and uttering a quick prayer of thanks. Our crazy summer is not the result of bad things but good things. We are scrambling to keep up with our blessings, and we don’t want to take that for granted. Things can turn on a dime. We are so grateful.

Today’s chapter are the familiar lyrics of the 23rd Psalm. I know them well. In fact, as I slogged down to the hotel lobby, still half-asleep, to fill my travel mug with coffee I began mulling over the words in my mind from memory. I came to “he leads me beside quiet waters” and immediately my heart was on the dock at the lake as the sun rises behind the trees at the back of the cove. The quiet waters of the lake have always been a place of peace for me. The gentle lull of the waves are the conduit for God’s spiritually restorative powers.

I’m feeling weary this morning and I’m appreciatively taking refuge in God’s promise to lead me to restful places beside quiet waters. In 48 hours, God willing, I’ll be on that dock as Wendy and I entertain good friends at the lake this weekend. Until then, I’ll seek my rest in God’s presence and promises.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 22

The Crucifixion, central panel of the Isenheim...
The Crucifixion, central panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My life is poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax,
    melting within me.
My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
    My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
    You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
    an evil gang closes in on me.
    They have pierced my hands and feet.
I can count all my bones.
    My enemies stare at me and gloat.
They divide my garments among themselves
    and throw dice for my clothing.
Psalm 22:14-18 (NLT)

Anyone who knows the story of Jesus’ crucifixion can picture the scene clearly in these poetic lyrics:

  • The angry mob, incited by the religious leaders, screaming for his death
  • His wrists and feet pierced by spikes and nailed to the wood
  • His enemies standing below and taunting him
  • His body, sapped of strength and unable to hold itself up, contorted  in agony
  • His mouth so parched and void of fluids that merciful followers attempt to raise a wet sponge to comfort him
  • His lungs, unable to breathe, giving way to asphyxiation
  • His body pierced by a spear
  • His executioners gambling for his seamless robe

So, what makes today’s chapter so incredible is that it was written 1,000 years before the event it so aptly describes.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 21

The king rejoices in your strength, Lord. Psalm 21:1

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately as I seek God’s help in molding me into a more capable leader.

This past week I’ve been personally disappointed by two different leaders. There is a unique difference between the two.

I am confident that one of them rejoices in God’s strength and places his trust in God. While he has disappointed me to the point of hurt, I find it easy to forgive and submit to his leadership despite the mistakes I feel he is making.

I am unsure exactly where the other puts his trust, which is unnerving to me. His word and actions appear to me to reveal that his strength is in himself and flawed mankind. I find myself repelled. I don’t trust him.

Today I am reminded to find my strength in God, both as a leader and as a follower.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 20

In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
    May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.
Psalm 20:1 (NLT)

The other night as Wendy and I sat at the I-Cubs game, the score was tied at 1-1 going into the bottom of the 9th inning. On the park’s video screen they played a montage of 40 different locker room and pre-battle speeches from famous movies. As the scenes, some familiar and others less so, played on the music swelled underneath. It was the pre-battle music from one of my favorite movies: Henry V. The crowd began to cheer as the music and words combined to pump everyone up for the bottom of the 9th (though it took the Cubs three more innings to score the winning run).

The first thing I noticed about the lyrics of today’s Psalm is that much of it is not directed as a personal prayer to God, as most of the Psalms are written. The voice of Psalm 20 is directed as a prayer of blessing and encouragement to another person. In this case, the song was sung to bless and encourage the king as he prepared to go out to battle. Psalm 20 is an ancient locker room speech set to music.

Every day can feel like a battle. In fact, Jesus warned every follower to be on guard because our spiritual enemy and the spiritual forces of darkness are constantly on the prowl to devour and destroy. That’s one of the reasons I’ve made a habit of starting my day this way. A chapter-a-day is often my spiritual locker room speech and battle cry before I enter the day’s fray.

Today, as you enter your own daily battle, receive this blessing from one wayfaring stranger to another:

In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
    May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.
May he send you help from his sanctuary
    and strengthen you from Jerusalem.
May he grant your heart’s desires
    and make all your plans succeed.

May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory
    and raise a victory banner in the name of our God.
May the Lord answer all your prayers.

Now go out there and win one for the Gipper!