05/31/2020 | “Asking for a Friend” | Psalm 122

In our idiom, “asking for a friend,” is a euphemism for our own concerns.   But when it comes to Christian prayer we are called to ask boldly for others through the ministry of intercession.    Listen to “Asking for Friend” as we consider Psalm 122 which calls us to pray for the sake of our brothers and to intercede for the church, the world, and our neighbors.

“Asking for a Friend” Psalm 122

05/24/2020 | “Grace and Gratitude” | Psalm 107

Is your life characterized by thanksgiving, or better yet, thanks-living?   Have you learned to receive everything – the good and the bad, the joyful and the sorrowful – with thanksgiving?   Our redemption is manifest chiefly in a grateful heart.  What does your life declare of thankfulness to God?  Listen as we examine Psalm 107 and consider the promptings, the pattern, and the practice of giving thanks and living thankfully.  

“Grace and Gratitude,” Psalm 107

Grace and Gratitude

Nothing reveals the vulnerabilities in the supply chain like a robust pandemic.   We think we can anticipate what will be in short supply – gas, water, generators, basic food stuffs – but herd instinct offers surprises.   While some shortages, such as toilet paper, have been widely reported, you may not have heard about shortages of bikes, audio-visual hardware, and seeds.    

Avid gardeners are meticulous planners.   They order seeds like clockwork according to their climate zones and carefully scripted calendars.  Yet this pandemic has thrown their plans into disarray.  An invasive species has appeared – the victory gardener!   Indeed, this is a good thing.  But it has created shortages for seed companies and nurseries. 

For too long people have labored under the notion that food comes from a supercenter.   Panic has led many to realize that maybe, just maybe, food comes from somewhere else – their yard.   Finding and eating food is one of the most basic parts of our lives, yet most of us have lost touch with its basic mechanics – its heart and soul, its deeper importance.   The author and poet, Wendell Berry,  laments this in his essay, “Eating and Pleasure.”

The industrial eater is, in fact, one who does not know that eating is an agricultural act, who no longer knows or imagines the connections between eating and the land, and who is therefore necessarily passive and uncritical – in short, a victim….  Both eater and eaten are in exile from biological reality…. Eating with the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that is, that does not depend upon ignorance – is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world.  In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and from powers we cannot comprehend.

Wendell Berry

Nothing is more time-consuming, day in and day out, than finding and eating food.  Yet, in all that planning, finding, preparing, and eating, how often do we “experience and celebrate our dependence and gratitude.”   Sure we “say the blessing” before the meal, but do we realize how deep that thanks should go?  This failure of thanks-living, this systemic ingratitude, goes much deeper than our eating – it extends to all other areas of life.  Nothing highlights our fallenness more than ingratitude.    Paul’s ringing indictment of our fallen nature in Romans 1 crescendos in our ungratefulness.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:18-21

Ungrateful hearts and lives are futile hearts and lives.   Gratitude is our primary response to God’s graciousness toward us.  Our worship seeks to glorify God through proclaiming His grace in the gospel and by expressing our gratitude to Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.   Worship is a gracious and thankful conversation between God and His people.   To be ungrateful is the hallmark of practical atheism.  Thanksgiving is a sanctifying agency in our lives.   Elsewhere Paul, in writing to his friend, Timothy, remarked.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4:4-5

Is your life characterized by thanksgiving, or better yet, thanks-living?   Have you learned to receive everything – the good and the bad, the joyful and the sorrowful – with thanksgiving?   Have you chosen to pursue every moment, every action, every aspiration to celebrate your dependence and gratitude toward the gracious God revealed to us in Christ Jesus?   Our redemption is manifest chiefly in a grateful heart.   In Psalm 107, the Psalmist exhorts us.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    whom he has redeemed from trouble. 

Psalm 107:1-2

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.   What does your life declare of thankfulness to God?  The inspired author goes on to speak about the promptings, the praise, and the practice of giving thanks and living thankfully.   Join us this Lord’s Day, May 24, on Facebook Live at 10:30 am as we examine Psalm 107 consider the power of experiencing and celebrating our dependence and gratitude toward our Gracious God.  

Good for the Soul

Visits to my Nana’s house were always an adventure.  After lunch, the adults spent their time “porch sitting.”   Their stories of the good old days riveted us for a while.  But eventually the stolid heat and humidity of Georgia summer and the quiet of spent storytelling drove the children indoors in search of more lively entertainment.  Nana’s house was always dark and mysterious.  Filled with curios from bygone ages and places. There was always something to explore.   As an older home, with no AC, her windows were always open.  And during the summer time, the old wood and linoleum floors were gritty to our bare feet.   When I think of summer in Georgia I think of that humid, grittiness.  A kind of pervasive, latent oppression Southerners learn to live with.

Any good Southern author knows that conveying this grittiness is a mark of regional authenticity.   The short stories of Faulkner are a good example.  They always evoke for me a feeling of grittiness.  But perhaps nothing I have read has made me feel more gritty, than the Russian novel, Crime and Punishment.

Crime and Punishment unfolds the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who murders an unscrupulous old pawnbroker for her money.  Before the killing, Raskolnikov believes the money will liberate him from poverty and change his life for the better.  Afterwards, however, he finds himself consumed with paranoia and self-loathing.  All his justifications unravel as he struggles with guilt and horror and confronts the consequences of his crime.  Dostoevsky’s work is a brutal character study in “urge to confess” and of the overwhelming power of guilt.

“The urge to confess” is a common theme in crime stories.   Guilt is powerful, controlling, and irrepressible.   We can rationalize it, conceal it, run from it, and attempt to mitigate it, but we cannot escape it.   Guilt clings with the tenacity of an ant and is a “thorn in the flesh” that no self-help strategy can eradicate.   As wise mentor once told me, “when people express guilt, don’t tell them they should not feel that way or that they are not guilty, but instruct them to confess.”   The old saying, “confession is good for the soul” is very true.  Solomon wisely instructed his sons, and successors, and us.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
    but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always,
    but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity. 

Proverbs 28:13-14

While confession is never easy, nor comfortable, the comfort it brings is powerful.   Confession is the only way to deal with our guilt – because it depends upon another, alone, who has the power to release us through forgiveness.  The ancient word for forgiveness, has at its root, to untie, or release.   Like the Gordian knot, only confession, repentance, and forgiveness can untie the knots that sin and guilt tie in our lives.   This is why confession is an essential part of worship.  

Just as the Psalms form the “anatomy of all parts of the soul,” instructing us in the liturgy of prayer and worship, corporate worship sets before us the pattern of life with God and with others.    Central to that pattern is the act of corporate confession and assurance of pardon.  In confession we “agree with” God about the truth of our condition, unmasked as men of unclean lips, hands, and hearts among a people of unclean lips, hands, and hearts before a Holy God.

Every person in Scripture who came face to face with God through prophetic vision or theophany, was terrified.  When Moses asked to see God’s glory, he was hidden in the cleft of the rock and only allowed to see God’s back.  When Job demanded an audience with God, God confronted him out of a EF5 tornado.   To enter God’s presence as a sinner is to invite death and terror.   Unless, there is one who can cover us and mediate for us.  

Job’s fear was that “there is no arbiter between [God and I], who might lay his hand on us both. Let him take his rod away from me, and let not dread of him terrify me.”  But the good news is that we do have a mediator in Christ.  One who can lay his hand upon us both. One who has stood in the gap.  One who has become sin for us that we might be accounted righteous in Him.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:15-16

It is God’s kindness in Christ that invites us to confess and find forgiveness and release from the Gordian knot of guilt.   Have you learned to confess?  Is confession a regular feature of your prayer life?  Or have you tried to find every other way to rid your self of that one dark blot, that no soap or good works can wash away?  

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 17, on Facebook Live at 10:30 am as we examine Psalm 130 and consider the next steps in our fellowship with God expressed through confession of our sin.