Down But Not Out

Learning American idioms must be incredibly difficult for people who speak other languages. Things that flow naturally from the tongue for English-speakers surely create a lot of confusion for others. Idioms are a piece of cake if you were born here. Otherwise it’s like cutting corners and beating around the bush rather than just coming straight to the point. These obscure phrases are hard to wrap your head around. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. (See what I did there?)

The idiom “down but not out” comes to mind as we read the 31st psalm. This phrase is from the boxing world and refers to when a boxer is knocked down, but not knocked out. A count is started, and if the boxer can stand up before the referee gets to ten, the fight resumes.

Somehow I doubt that David was a boxer, but he was definitely sprawled out on the mat with the count at about seven when he wrote this:

Psalm 31 (New Revised Standard Version)

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eye wastes away from grief,
    my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
    and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
    and my bones waste away.

11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
    a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
    those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
    I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
    terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
    as they plot to take my life.

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever been knocked down so hard by life and its challenges that you thought you couldn’t even lift your head up? So many things can do that to us. Sickness, job loss, betrayal, infidelity, the death of a loved one, abuse, bankruptcy, sin…there are times when we are overpowered and we go down.

But with God, we’re never out.

14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
    deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
    save me in your steadfast love.

If you are having an incredibly difficult day/week/year and you feel like you’ve just gone five rounds with Mike Tyson and your ear is bleeding, take heart. God is YOUR God. Your times are in his hands and he will deliver you from your trials. You can always count on his steadfast love.

As they say, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings! Good things come to those who wait.

But I Trust in You by Michelle Robertson

Teach Me

We are officially in the season of Lent. This 40-day time of solemn preparation for the celebration of Easter Sunday is often marked by “giving something up.” This is always a good practice for those of us who have slipped into a spiritual lethargy since last Lent, methinks! I encourage the plus/minus form of Lent-making. In other words, don’t just give something up, but add something new in its place.

This year I decided to teach a Lent Bible Study in my congregation. It is my own personal “adding to.” I know that the discipline of preparing for class each week will add to my own discipleship and shake me out of my complacency. Our first lesson is on prayer, and already God is working in my spirit to teach me things I need to learn about prayer.

So imagine my joy when Psalm 25 came along in today‘s lectionary. Not only is David’s psalm a prayer, but it also teaches us about prayer! Let’s find those teaching points together today.

Psalm 25 (New Revised Standard Version)

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
    do not let me be put to shame;
    do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
    let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

We can’t enter a conversation with the Lord without lifting up our soul. This first sentence reminds us that we need to be deliberate in seeking and entering God’s presence. To lift up one’s soul is to expose everything we are dealing with in our hearts and minds to him. We enter a sacred chamber and wait, trusting God’s immediate presence. Through prevenient grace, we know that he is already in the chamber. We wait for OUR spirit to catch up with his presence.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all day long.

So often our prayers are mere lists of needs and wants. Indeed, God inclines his ear to hear our wailing, but David reminds us that if we pause our litany of woes long enough, we can also be taught and led into God’s ways and his truth. The difference is LISTENING. God gave us two ears and one mouth. They should be used proportionally in prayer. Speak once. Listen twice.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
    for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
    according to your steadfast love remember me,
    for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Reminding God of his goodness is a psalmist’s trick to remind the reader of God’s mercy and steadfast love. When we remember those truths, our prayers are more honest and forthcoming. And remembering that God forgets our sins gives us permission to also forget them.

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
    and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
    for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

The Psalmist ends with more references to instructing, teaching, and leading.

What are you learning about prayer today? How will your prayers during Lent be different than before? Being humble in your approach to God is the first step. Humility calls us to be listening learners rather than loud demanders.

May we all rejoice in practicing listening, and may we celebrate a Holy Lent this year.

Our Prayers Take Flight by Michelle Robertson

Enduring Love

Think about something you love in this world. Maybe it’s your spouse or your child. Maybe it’s where you live. It could be your football team. Perhaps it is something you were given that you truly cherish. Maybe it’s pizza. If we were to each make a list of the ten things we love, I imagine our lists would be quite different.

Just so you know, the first thing on God’s list of “Things I Love” is YOU.

Other things that God loves are justice, righteousness, delivering his people, and forgiving their sins.

Psalm 106 (New Revised Standard Version)

Praise the Lord!
    O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord,
    or declare all his praise?
Happy are those who observe justice,
    who do righteousness at all times.

Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people;
    help me when you deliver them;
that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones,
    that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation,
    that I may glory in your heritage.

Both we and our ancestors have sinned;
    we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly.

God wants his people to prosper and participate in the gladness of his nation. We are all part of his heritage. And oh, how it must grieve him that we continue to turn again and again to little gods of our own making.

They made a calf at Horeb
    and worshiped a cast image.
20 They exchanged the glory of God
    for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21 They forgot God, their Savior,
    who had done great things in Egypt,
22 wondrous works in the land of Ham,
    and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 Therefore he said he would destroy them—
    had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
    to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

A friend of mine recently posted that he loves it when he reads in scripture that God changed his mind. The friend goes on to say that when he does, it is always toward compassion. Indeed, how could it not be? God is the creator and sustainer of compassion. Combined with his steadfast love for us, we are the blessed recipients of everything that flows from compassionate love.

This is what Jesus did for us on the cross. He let compassionate love flow from his veins and delivered all sinners from imprisonment of their sin. We are free because of his enduring, saving, and forgiving love.

So when you’re making your list of things you love, start with Jesus. Teach your children to love him, sing of YOUR enduring love of God to all who will hear, and most importantly be a reflection of that love to a world that desperately needs to see it.

Evening Reflection by Michelle Robertson

Slow to Anger

Are you slow or quick to anger? Someone I know is VERY quick to anger. Before the offense is even formed in her mind, the explosion is coming out of her mouth. Another person I know is slow to anger. He is thoughtful, measured, and considerate of everyone’s opinions before he responds. Luckily, these two people are married to each other. Isn’t God funny that way?

The thing I appreciate about the one who is quick to anger is that once the explosion is over, she moves on. I have never known her to hold a grudge. There’s something to be said for that.

But those who are slow to anger are more like God himself. And thank God that God is slooooow to anger!! Otherwise we would have all been smote by now…and some of us would have been smote several times over. Deservedly.

That’s what is amazing about God. He never gives us what we deserve, thanks be to God.

Psalm 145 (New Revised Standard Version)

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
    and his compassion is over all that he has made.

Such a wonderful word of reassurance to us today. There probably isn’t one of us who doesn’t need his steadfast love and compassion right about now. Part of the challenge of living through this pandemic is HOLDING OUR TEMPER. If you’re like me, you are feeling especially fragile right now and everything is annoying. My irritation meter is set on High and it is taking all of my self control to not respond to things around me. Do you feel that way?

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
    and all your faithful shall bless you.
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
    and tell of your power,
12 to make known to all people your  mighty deeds,
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

But the psalmist sets out a bigger picture.

The Lord is faithful in all his words,
    and gracious in all his deeds.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
    and raises up all who are bowed down.

The Lord indeed raises up all who are bowed down under the pressures of life. And he holds us up as we are falling. Take a moment to feel his arms around you, supporting you in your stumbles and struggles.

Sometime today, this week, or maybe in the next five minutes, you will feel annoyed. That annoyance will want to express itself in anger.

Don’t let it. Take a deep breath, walk away, and remember how God deals with YOU.

Slow to anger…it’s a God-thing.

The Glorious Splendor of God’s Kingdom by Wende Pritchard

Enduring Love

One of the harder aspects of being a member of the clergy is doing marriage counseling. Two people sit before you, having declared their enduring love for one another at one point in their lives, and are now are questioning everything. Especially when infidelity has broken all trust, a love that was once expected to endure forever is now shattered and lying in pieces on the ground.

Some couples make it through, if they submit to raw honesty, painful truth-telling, a lot of deep soul searching, and prayer. Sadly, many do not. The breach of trust that occurs is extremely difficult to rebuild. Most couples give up before they can reach that point.

What is enduring love anyway? Can we really have it in our earthly relationships? I believe we can, if people are willing to yield their lives and passions to the image of love that God provides. God’s love is unconditional, eternal, and sacrificial. God offers us a steadfast love that indeed endures forever.

Psalm 136 (New Revised Standard Version)

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

who alone does great wonders,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
who by understanding made the heavens,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
who spread out the earth on the waters,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

who made the great lights,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
    for his steadfast love endures forever

The key to steadfast, enduring love is to realize that it is a CHOICE. To love as God loves is something we choose to do (or not) everyday. To be willing to be humble and put someone else’s needs first leads to enduring love. To love unconditionally, even when you have been betrayed and dismissed, is enduring love. To offer loving forgiveness in response to true repentance is Christ-like love. To give shelter and provision with no expectation of return is God-like love.

We are invited to love as God loves. Steadfastly. Enduringly. Sacrificially. Hopefully. And most of all, unconditionally.

Where is God calling you to love the way he loves?

His Love Endures Forever by Bonnie Bennett