Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Blend

I love Christmas. From lights, to trees, to music...there's just not a lot about this time of year I can find to complain about. Okay, honestly, there's a lot to complain about (greed, consumerism, commercialization, poverty, the Alamo bowl) but that kind of defeats the purpose of the season, doesn't it? If we truly celebrate the coming of Christ as the purpose of Christmas, then what can we do but be optimistic.

It's a time of incarnation, of remembering that something truly peculiar and mysterious happened as God somehow became human and lived among us. Most importantly, it's a time to remember that as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am to continue that incarnation in the world today by building God's kingdom on earth; to know that hope, love, joy, and peace aren't just words on banners hanging from the Advent wreath, but rather actions that I should be exemplifying in all I do.

There is hope in knowing that Christ's presence is continually incarnated by his disciples today. Love is shared as people forget about themselves for just a little while and help others this season, not because they have to, but because they want to. Joy abounds as friends and family gather from far and wide simply to be together. And peace, although it feels so far off at times, exudes from Christmas Eve candlelight services across the globe.

May you be blessed in all you do this season. May the hope, joy, love, and peace that come with Christ continue in us throughout the year.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Growing up (not that I'm finished by any means!), I always had an answer for those who asked what I was going to be. Like most little boys, I started off wanting to be just like my Dad in every way, including growing up to work at F&H Food Equipment. Granted, I really had no idea what my dad did at F&H, but that's where I wanted to work. After all, he went on sales calls to places with fabulous Milwaukee.

Then, and I remember this vividly, when I was six, my dad and I were driving around in his Bronco II when he put a tape in the stereo that would forever change my life: Garth Brooks' No Fences. From that point until around sixth grade, I wanted to be Garth Brooks. I had every song memorized, started learning the guitar, had a big Garth Brooks poster over my bed. Some boys memorized baseball lineups and statistics; I memorized the track order of Garth Brooks albums. I was going to be a country music star.

Sometime around the sixth grade, I developed an interest in medicine and decided I was going to go to school at UMKC and become a pediatrician. I even shadowed my pediatrician in eighth grade and it was a great experience...I even got to wear a lab coat. But in eighth grade, I had the greatest social studies teacher in the world, Jim Wood. I've always had a passion for history and Mr. Wood ignited that. My tenth grade world history teacher, Jeremy George, taught me to pursue my passion and my passion was history; why not teach it? So that was it. I was even voted most likely to end up teaching at Hillcrest by my senior class.

That lasted until I randomly took a New Testament class at SMS and had so much of what I thought I knew about the Bible and religion turned on its head. Talk about a paradigm shift. I even learned what a paradigm shift was. I immersed myself in the study of religion and found the intersection of my two biggest passions: history and Christianity. It was beautiful. I remember how long I wrestled with whether or not to change my major from history education to religious studies, a switch I've never regretted. I was still going to teach; it was just going to require a PhD.

But like my other career paths, my confidence over the last year and a half has wained regarding becoming a professor. See, I firmly believe that God calls each of us to a vocation. As in all other things, I believe that we choose whether or not to accept that calling. I could be perfectly content as a high school history teacher and I know that I could do a PhD program if I wanted to do so. But what is God calling me to do? Is it something else entirely?

Ever since I was little, my GaGa (that's Mom's mom, for the uninitiated) has told me that I was going to be "her little preacher", so that's been in my head too. Every year at Camp Galilee, there would be a special call for those who might feel called into full-time ministry of some kind and I always wrestled with God as to whether or not that was me. I've wrestled and wrestled, warning God that if God was truly calling me to ministry as a vocation, God would have to start moving some mountains or burning some bushes to prove it. I haven't seen any yet. But the thought's been creeping up a lot more over the past six months.

I'll be 24 in November. Not old by any means, but perhaps not so young either. Hopefully I'll be finishing up my MA this year. And I'm getting closer and closer every day to marriage. But what's next? I love my job and have no intentions of leaving any time soon, but I don't want to be a youth director for the rest of my life.

The freak-out part of this is that growing up, regardless of what it was, I was always incredibly confident of what I was going to do in life. The last year and a half has truly been the first time I've had doubts about what I wanted to do with my life. And there's the rub; I could be perfectly happy teaching (at either level) or preaching. But where is God calling me?

For now, I'll just keep singing.

Lead me, Lord
Lead me in Your righteousness
Make Thy way plain before my face
For it is Thou Lord
Thou Lord only
That makest me dwell in safety.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Oh my...

If you haven't seen this yet, do yourself a favor and watch it...just be sure you're not drinking anything while you watch, lest it end up all over your keyboard.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Politics as Usual

This is getting ridiculous. I am utterly and thoroughly confused by this ad from McCain.

I'm just baffled. What is the point of this message? I'm so confused, I can't even write a clear paragraph. Yes, Barack Obama is a celebrity. And so is John McCain. But what's with the messianic language and use of footage from the 10 Commandments? If the McCain folks are trying to make Obama out to be some sort of failed messiah, why did they choose to use clips from a mid-century epic of the life of Moses? Since when is Moses a messianic figure? Doesn't comparing Obama to Moses hurt McCain's case? According to Hebrew scriptures, Moses was only the one chosen by God to set God's people free from decades of slavery and oppression at the hands of the Egyptians. I'm not sure that's the kind of person to whom I would compare my opponent.

I'm sick of hearing about how McCain needs to do a better job of courting evangelicals when he puts out ads like this. Is it just me, or does this border on blasphemy? Yes, I understand that this ad is tongue in cheek and that the McCain folks think Obama is taking his role in history a bit too far. But people, this IS huge. I don't care which side of the political aisle you choose, we have an African-American about to claim his party's nomination to run for president of the United States. Sure, it's not on the same spectrum as Moses freeing the Hebrew people from bondage and allowing God's covenant with Abraham to continue. But this IS a big deal. And I think the McCain folks just made it even bigger. As one youtube commenter said, this may be the best ad in Obama's favor yet.

Perhaps, as most politicians do, Obama thinks a little too highly of himself. And yes, his supporters probably paint him in bigger terms than they should. But that's because they're excited. So far, McCain hasn't given me anything to be excited about. Perhaps I'm just another impressionable feller in his mid-20's getting swept up in Obamania. Regardless, it feels good to be excited about the prospects of a political candidate for once. Did somebody say change?

Monday, August 25, 2008

To switch or not to switch...

I think google may be taking over my life. My blog on wordpress seems to do everything I ask of it, but the fact that I can keep my online life so easily connected thanks to google (the thought of a disconnected online life seems somewhat paradoxical) has inspired me to give blogger a try. So here goes...who shall emerge victorious? Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Romans 8:1-11 (NRSV)

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

I was a part of a Bible study thing called the FIRE Institute at one time in high school. It was a very intense multi-month study full of learning spiritual disciplines, fasting, scripture study, video watching, for which I quit freshman football (wasn’t too tough of a decision; I don’t think I was cut out for high school football…much more comfortable on stage) and made various other sacrifices. It was an overall good experience that helped gird up my fundamentalist attitudes of the time but that I am quite sure genuinely helped me grow.

One of the most challenging (but fulfilling) aspects of the experience was that we had to memorize Romans chapter eight, one of my favorite passages since that study. In fact, ten years later (it’s been 10 years since I was a freshman?), I can still get through the first half of the chapter without stuttering. But this is good stuff friends…

I’m always intrigued by what exactly Paul had in mind when talking about the law of sin and death. Is this some kind of original sin idea? Or is it just the result of humanity’s sinful nature, like a natural law? My lovely New Oxford Annotated Bible says that Paul, when speaking of the law of the Spirit of life and the law of sin and death is reffering not to “two different laws, but of God’s law experienced under two opposing dominions, of sin and of righteousness.” In that case, I suppose that Christ ushers in the death or collapse of the dominion of sin and death by bringing about the dominion of the Spirit of life. That makes sense in light of verse four, when Paul talks about those who “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

But would that imply that God set up a dominion of unrighteousness? Or was God’s righteousness simply corrupted by flesh, as in verse three? I need to read some gnostic interpretations of this…I could easily see how this could be fodder for the idea that the God of the Jews is actually an evil diety, Lord of the law of sin and death, while the God of Jesus is actually the God of the good stuff, of the Spirit of life.

Personally, when I think of a law weakened by the flesh, I think of my inability to live up to God’s righteousness on my own apart from Christ, who came “in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in flesh, so that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” I supposed the idea of separate dominions still works with this interpretation though; it’s a matter of which dominion we choose to walk under.

Having one’s mind set on the desires of the flesh ultimately leads to destruction according to Paul and creates a mind that is hostile to God and unable to submit to God’s law; BUT, the mind focused on the Spirit brings life and peace. I like life and peace a lot more than destruction. I need to spend more time in prayer and meditation, focusing my mind on the Spirit, finding peace.

I like to think of verse eleven as applying to living bodies, to the idea that God, through Christ, wants to give life to our mortal bodies, our bodies that are still alive. When people look at me, I want them to see someone who is truly alive. I struggled with that last week on mission trip; being tired and sick at the end didn’t help, but I was not a good demonstration of the vibrant life that Christ wants to give for my kids. I’m going to work on that, to find a way to still be me and be true to my personality, yet show that joyus life of Christ within.

Good stuff indeed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thematicaly Speaking

One of my biggest struggles in youth ministry is coming up with a theme for the fall and I’m not really sure why. I find it dificult to definitively decide what the entire purpose of Campbell’s youth ministry is going to be based on for a year. I inevitably stray or altogether forget about the theme by October anyway, but I understand the usefulness of a theme. It gives us all something to focus on, something to tie around. So here we go…hopefully I’ll be enlightened with something good…

Monday, April 21, 2008


We’re reading a book by Aaron Ketchell called Holy Hills of the Ozarks which is about religion and tourism in Branson. I’m not sure why, but I never thought about Silver Dollar City as an inherently religious place growing up. Sure, I knew they had gospel music shows and the huge Christmas festival (one of my favorite parts of the season), but I never thought of it as a specifically religious (read: Christian) place. Of course, I wouldn’t expect to go to Six Flags and see a gospel quartet, but somehow it never seemed “strange” at SDC. Why is that? Was I more focused on the rides and therefore less likely to notice? Or does it have more to do with growing up in the Ozarks.

Charles Reagan Wilson, the all-star of Southern history and culture, gave a talk on campus tonight and he mentioned how thoroughly the Ozarks is permeated with all things religious. If that’s true, then it makes sense that SDC wouldn’t seem “weird” to me; I (and many other natives) are simply used to the permeation, like it or not. But I think there is something else to it. When I go to Silver Dollar City, or to Branson in general, I expect to see elements of Christianity at every turn, regardless of whether or not said elements are tasteful. I know what I’m getting into when I go to Branson. Whether it be amusement theme parks, variety shows, or restaurants, the entire town is marketing nostalgia couched in Christianity.

But apparently, some people find Branson offensive, which I can understand. What I can’t understand is that some people seem to be surprised by Branson’s in-your-face embrace of Christianity. Believe it or not, there is a group of people in America that want to see Kirby van Burch make a helicopter appear and then talk about Jesus. They also want to see public displays of the 10 Commandments draped in American flags and hear about how awesome George W. Bush is. Branson, if a city could do so, is fulfilling many of those desires and more. Is that wrong? Is that something to be offended by?

Just as many fundamentalists will never go to Vegas, many non-evangelicals will probably never feel much affinity for Branson. That’s ok. Let’s just not be any more surprised to see Christianity in Branson then we would be to see Judaism in Miami. Rather than throwing up our defenses when encountering something different and uncomfortable, let’s try to reach a point of understanding; it’s a lot friendlier than being immediately offended.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I’ve felt an overwhelming desire to write recently, but (clearly) haven’t made time for it. I was the “speaker” at our recent college retreat (don’t let the title fool you…I basically led discussion) and we spent the weekend talking about self and spiritual discipline, two categories in which I find myself lacking of late.

I’ve developed an affinity for my snooze button. I go to bed excited about getting my day started with a flourish, but seem to lack the same enthusiasm when the appointed wake-up time rolls around. I tried the “move the alarm” trick so that I would physically have to get out of bed to turn it off, but to no avail. Recently, I have gone back to using my cell phone as an alarm because it does not have a snooze button. Unfortunately, I’ve used the snooze button for so long that I’m afraid it’s been ingrained into my biological clock. In other words, I’ll wake up when my phone goes off, but have no problem snoozing until the last possible minute; my body still knows that it’s time to get up.

So the point here is to put this all in writing, hoping that by expressing my intentions might make them more real. Tomorrow is a new day, and I shall once again go to bed with every intention of getting up, eating a good breakfast, doing some reading, and starting the day at a relaxed pace. Time is, after all, precious, and I need to treat it as such. There you go, cyberspace; hold me accountable.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Romans 4:1-5 (TNIV)

1 What then shall we say that Abraham, the forefather of us Jews, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to anyone who works, their wages are not credited to them as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to anyone who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Ah, the good ol’ works verses faith debate. And Paul characteristically takes us back to the ancestors, and rightly so. Just as Paul wrote (and it makes sense after working through the Genesis reading from earlier this week), if ANYBODY has the right to be justified by works, it was Abraham. Obviously the main hang up for Paul is that righteousness isn’t really something that’s “credited” or “payed”, but rather freely given. I really like the way that the TNIV puts verse 5: to anyone who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly. After justification, do we become godly?

But even if works don’t get us a payment of righteousness, isn’t that they way Paul makes faith sound? Faith is still an action and it’s because of faith that righteousness is given. Is faith a work? Regardless, I think it’s important to note that action is still necessary, on both God’s part and on our part. I just wish that Paul hadn’t so clearly ruled out the role of works when it comes to faith, or written about the importance of the interplay between faith and works…but maybe he didn’t feel that way. Or was his reaction so strong because of what he was writing against? If Paul and the author of James got together today to discuss faith and works, what would they say?

Back to Abraham to close. What really goes on with Abraham’s works and faith? Are his works contingent on his faith? Or is it the other way around? Or is it both? I agree that Abraham’s faith was the key, but his actions were only living out that faith, right? We too often fail to think of the word faith as a verb requiring action. Perhaps that is our greatest lesson from Abraham: faith as a belief is great, but faith put into action is the point.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Psalm 121 (NRSV)

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills–from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

This is definitely one of my favorite Psalms. I’m not sure if it’s because of its use in Shepherd of the Hills or because it is conveniently placed above the observation window in the church at Silver Dollar City, but this Psalm always feels like home to me. And what a Psalm of comfort! My help comes from the Lord, and not just any Lord, but the very one that made the heavens and the earth.

I’m not really sure what to say about this Psalm. All I feel like I can really do is repeat lines over and over…The Lord is your keeper, the Lord will keep your life, the Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on…that’s what I call security. Maybe one important thing to note is the main action in the Psalm: the Psalmist lifting up his or her eyes. That’s not generally my first response when facing trouble. Rather than looking up, I generally look to myself or to those around me, but don’t look up nearly often enough. Perhaps that’s the key.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Genesis 12:1-4 (TNIV)

1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.

To me, this is one of the most significant passages in all of scripture. As Abram leaves behind everything he knows, having been called to do so by Yahweh, this unknown deity, an entirely new page is started in world history. The ambiguity is what stuns me the most; God calls Abram to go “to the land I will show you.” Abram had no idea how where he was going, how far, what he would need to pack, nothing. God just said go, and Abram went.

It surprises me how often leaving behind family seems to be a theme in the Bible. Why did God insist that Abram leave his family behind? I have no doubt that God could have started this new thing exactly where Abram was at. Why ask him to leave? Was it a test of faith? Was it necessary for things to truly start over or start anew? Did God want Abram’s family as removed as possible from the culture of idolatry they were in? All of these are possible, but the simple fact is that God required Abram to move on. What if he hadn’t done it?

If it was a test of faith, then why does God test Abram’s faith so much? From leaving his family to promising an impossible son to asking him to sacrifice that same son, Abram seems to be thoroughly tested. But each time Abram prevails. His faith carries him through (except for that whole lying about whether Sarai was actually his wife or not…we’ll save that for another day).

God’s promises are pretty extreme as well. Just think of how much was hanging on Abram’s decision of whether or not to go. I’m sure it would’ve worked out in the end even if Abram had chosen not to go, but regardless, that’s some pretty extreme responsibility. But having the promise of “a great nation” no doubt appealed to lowly Abram on many levels.

Finally, I can’t neglect Abram’s age when all of this comes down. Regardless of whether or not he was really 75 or not, I think the point is that he was old and everything that goes with being old. He was no doubt set in his ways, comfortable in his lifestyle at home with his family, continuing his father’s business. But God yanks him out of all of that and Abram faithfully follows, even at the ripe age of 75.

I can’t end this post without talking about Sarai. I wonder if God enlightened her at all in this process. Was she simply following her husband who claimed to have heard from this unknown God? Or did she have some kind of insider knowledge or revelation as well? Of course we don’t have a record of that, at least until angels appear to her and tell her that she will soon be pregnant. I hope God spoke to her too. Or maybe simply following Abram was a test of her faith as well. If God had never spoken to her, just imagine what that conversation would have been like when Abram told her they were moving, but had no idea where! I’m sure that one was a lot of fun.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ecclesiasties 1 (TNIV)

1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

3 What does anyone gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?

4 Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.

5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.

6 The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.

7 All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.

8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.

9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.

11 There is no remembrance of people of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on the human race! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 15 What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said to myself, “Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.

18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
the more knowledge, the more grief.

I’ve really wanted to read Ecclesiastes for a while now, and I’m not sure why. I think part of the reason may be the author’s admitted cynicism, very evident in this passage. Everything is meaningless? I suppose that’s one way to look at things. But is it that far off? Temporal things remain forever in the eyes of the author; the sun keeps coming up, waters continue to flow into the sea. What is forgotten are people and their works.

What surprises me most from this passage is the use of the word “meaningless” on multiple occasions. Everything humanity strives for is meaningless and leads to nothing new. Our toil is in vain. This is what Solomon’s great wisdom led him to? All that we toil for is meaningless? Perhaps wisdom did to Solomon what it has to so many others by making him unduly cynical and critical. Especially telling is the last verse: For with much wisdom comes much sorrow, and from much knowledge, the more grief.

But you know what? I wouldn’t trade that sorrow for anything. The ache I feel when I don’t understand God or the way God seems to work is definitely one of sorrow, but it’s not an unwelcome sorrow. Reading further on in Ecclesiastes (and I haven’t gotten far) it is clear that Solomon starts first by observing the temporal (as this passage would seem to indicate) and finding foolishness there. Solomon even tells us that his quest for wisdom is to understand what goes on under the heavens, which I would agree is indeed foolishness. But what of that which goes on in the heavens? Was Solomon’s wisdom limited strictly to things of the earth?

That’s where I want to increase in wisdom; I long for a greater understanding of God, knowing full-well that I’ll never understand it all. Nothing could be further from meaningless as far as I am concerned. But is wisdom of things temporal truly meaningless? Is all of our toil to understand meaningless? I suppose that in relation to knowledge and understanding of God that it could be seen as meaningless…but I still want worldly wisdom. I’ve already spent a lot of time trying to gain that and to gain an understanding of people; surely that is not meaningless unless compared to the overwhelming responsibility of understanding God.

Here’s another question: can we not gain a better understanding of God by understanding everyone and everything around us? If God is truly in and of all things and people, I would have to think that such a pursuit would not be in vain. Interesting.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Psalm 51 (TNIV)

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

14 Deliver me from bloodguilt, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. 15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. 18 May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Let me admit from the start that I struggle using anything other than the NRSV when it comes to scripture. But since this isn’t really supposed to be a critical study or anything, but simply my reflections on different passages, I might just do some version-hopping. We’ll see how that goes. I’m going to do my best to not look through a critical lens when doing these writings…we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, this Psalm is introduced as having been written by David after Nathan confronted him regarding his relationship with Bathsheba. I think the opening line says it all: Have mercy on me, oh God! How many times has that been my first response to sin…it’s like the voice that says “maybe you shouldn’t do that” finally gains its foothold in my mind after the fact.

All of this is immediately followed by David’s pleas for God to “blot out” his sin or to “turn away” from looking at his sin. And I think David expects that God would do such a thing simply because of God’s “unfailing love” and “great compassion”. Clearly David knew his sin, but what interests me most is that he says he sinned only to God. What about Bathsheba? Did David not sin against her as well? In fact, she’s not even mentioned in this passage! Maybe she was complicit the relationship and I try to blame David too much. I don’t know.

David’s request to not be cast from God’s presence is also frightening. I can’t imagine being cast from God’s presence. I’ve felt that “divine absence” before, but even then felt like the problem was more on my end then on God’s. Did David feel like he had literally been cast from God’s presence? Or was he feeling that same separation I feel when I screw things up. It definitely would have been easier for David to put that guilt on God’s shoulders, almost blaming God for his feelings. But would God really have cast David out? I have to think that David was the one walking away.

Far and away my favorite part of this Psalm has to be the part about sacrifice. I will never be the type of person to deny the importance of ritual. The rituals of the church are of utmost importance to me as I believe they are to God…if done in the right frame of mind. I think that’s what David was getting at here. God wants a broken spirit and a contrite heart which you can have in ritual. What is it that God takes pleasure in? The sacrifices of the righteous. I want to strive for righteousness.

The Beginning

Lent is truly a special season, definitely one of my favorites as the liturgical calendar goes. I remember back when I worked at the Fairgrounds our attitude seemed to be that we could do anything for the 10 days of the fair. In a sense, Lent carries the same type of attitude for me most of the time, whether it be giving something up or taking something on; I can do anything for 40 days, right?

In our service last night, our pastor invited us to a “celebration of Lenten discipline”. That’s what I want to focus on this year, hopefully further developing disciplines that will carry well beyond the 40 days of Lent. Rather than specifically giving something up this year, I’ve decided to add something: I’m going to start my day at work (and hopefully my days off) with some scripture and then write about what I’ve read. I need more discipline in my life; financially, spiritually, socially. Hopefully this will help.

Edit (2/19): I have decided to follow the Revised Common Lectionary for these posts. For some reason, the hardest part of this project so far has been deciding what to write about. I’ll just take one of the readings for the week and write about it each day; hopefully that will help.