Please pray these psalms with me on this Lord’s Day. Note that Psalm 22 forms Jesus’ prayer from the cross.

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Psalm 52:1-3

[Sadly evil is “out there” which we must confront. We must also confront the evil within our own hearts.]

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
    The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
Your tongue plots destruction,
    like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good,
    and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah

Psalm 82:1-4

God has taken his place in the divine council;
    in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
    and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
    maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
    deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Psalm 112:1-5

Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
    who greatly delights in his commandments!
His offspring will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in his house,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
    he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
    who conducts his affairs with justice.

Psalm 142:5-7

I cry to you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry,
    for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
    for they are too strong for me!
Bring me out of prison,
    that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
    for you will deal bountifully with me.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016.
Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #4 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

We’ve been looking at how little things can have a big impact at St. John, where I used to serve as senior pastor and now attend as a happy member. Pastor Mark Wuggazer has opened our eyes to some important realities: Our thoughts inform our words. Our words impact our actions. And our actions become habits. The key thought is that thoughts and words matter. That’s sometimes less obvious than the idea that our actions matter.

People like to claim that they cannot control their thoughts. But we must let go of that excuse. For that is what it is: an excuse to indulge our flesh in sinful imaginations, schemes, and fantasies. Scripture tells us to take every thought captive to Christ. (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5) Romans 12:1-2 states,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Then come the words. Carole Mayhall wrote a book, Words that Hurt, Words that Heal. In it she makes the point that words can have profound impact for good or ill. God calls us to speak words that are fountains of life. (cf. Proverbs 10:11) That is at the root of this prayer.

What better example do we have than Jesus as one who spoke words of life.

“Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more,” he says to the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:11)

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asks the blind man. (Mark 10:51)

“If you would ask, I would give you living water,” he says to the woman at the well. (John 4:10)

“And surely, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age,” he promises his followers. (Matthew 28:20)

St. Paul urges us: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Not long ago a friend offered this suggestion to overcome insomnia. I had shared that I will pray the Lord’s prayer again and again, or sing/pray the Agnus Dei, or a favorite hymn. His suggestion: When you wake up in the middle of the night think of all the things for which you’re thankful, things that bring you true joy. I wonder now if the glory of the heavenly witness, the beautiful truth of God’s word, the blessed promises of Scripture, and the gift of God’s forgiveness and redemption should fill my mind, not only when I cannot sleep, but throughout the day. And then, my words would surely be gracious and full of life as well.

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Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #3 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie is an insightful look at the nature and essence of evil. He approaches the subject as a psychiatrist, admitting that the subject is highly controversial among his peers. The book’s blurb states that

People who are evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. Peck demonstrates the havoc these people of the lie work in the lives of those around them. He presents, from vivid incidents encountered in his psychiatric practice, examples of evil in everyday life.

A key quote from the book: “It is not their sins per se that characterize evil people, rather it is the subtlety and persistence and consistency of their sins. This is because the central defect of the evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it.” (page 69) [Thanks to Laura Martin who posted this in her blog]

Yes. Our greatest problem is not just the sin, but a refusal to acknowledge our sin. This echos the truth of 1 John 1:8, “If we say we are without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” That’s why this psalm is so important as part of our prayer life. We must confess our sins and say with David, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!”

When Jesus died on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Who can discern his errors? We have no idea of the far-reaching impact of our sins of commission or omission. Mitch Albom’s Five People you Meet in Heaven, explores the far-reaching impact we have with one another in our seemingly-ordinary daily encounters. The examples are mostly positive. But I wonder if there would be a similar book written about the negative impacts we have had on people in seemingly minor acts of unkindness or thoughtlessness. We won’t even consider the far-reaching impact of our more ignoble failures and sins!

So what are we to do as we contemplate our sins, confessing them and seeking God’s forgiveness? Certainly we must take seriously the urgent confession in the words, “Declare me innocent from hidden faults.” We can sincerely pray, “Keep me blameless and innocent of great transgression.” And we can rejoice in Jesus’ forgiveness. For we are also promised, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Our blamelessness is by the grace of God through faith in the blood of Jesus. That is unassailable. And it requires that we acknowledge our need for it. 

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Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #2 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

I was never able to get past the 30 page description of a tree in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (or maybe it was The Hobit). OK, maybe I exaggerate a little; maybe it was only 25 pages! But I have watched the Lord of the Rings movies several times. And the portrayal of Sméagol/Gollum is so very well done. He speaks of the Ring as his Precious. The tone of voice, non-verbal cues, and cinematography conspire to make it clear. His Precious is so very very precious. Too much so, in fact. It has become his idol. It is his god. And it will kill him.

That’s what idols do. That’s what the devil does: he steals, kills, and destroys. And we all have various Precious things that vie for a dangerous place in our hearts. Anxiety about finances can choke out generosity and result in financial idolatry. Fear of the future can elevate the need for certainty and understanding and replace faith. A need for power and control can lead to sexual misconduct and abuse. These kill the soul. They are the fools gold of life and joy.

But God’s word is truly precious. More precious than gold and sweeter than honey. God’s words are the word of life (cf. John 6:68-69). They enrich the soul. God’s word warns us of dangerous thoughts, words, and actions. It directs us in paths of true joy and blessing. God’s word points us to Jesus, the source of eternal life. God’s word lifts our spirits to focus on more noble things. And it helps us deal with the very real muck and mire of daily life.

The wisdom literature (Proverbs and Ecclesiastes) provide insight and guidance for daily living. The prayer book of the Old Testament (Psalms), gives words to our prayers. We learn great lessons from the history of Israel (the first several books of the Old Testament). The prophets challenge us and call us to repent and return to God. Then comes the fulfillment of it all: the New Testament’s witness to Jesus. The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. So as we hold God’s word precious, we are ultimately holding Jesus as most precious. He is the way, the truth, and the life. We gain access to the Father and his throne of grace only through him. He is truly precious!

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Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #1 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

I love the testimony of nature: God is glorious, majestic, creative, and existent. He is. Creation testifies to God’s existence. I like to illustrate that by imagining a conversation between a normal and rational human being and a skeptic. They come upon a TIMEX wrist watch. It’s running and shows the date and time.

Normal and rational human (NRH): Oh look! A watch. I wonder who dropped it?

Skeptic (S): I’m not so sure. How do you know someone dropped it? Did you see him drop it? (It is a man’s watch.)

NRH: No, but surely that’s what’s happened. It’s lying here beside the sidewalk. It shows signs of wear. Surely someone just dropped it. It must have fallen off his wrist.

S: Not so fast. How do you know it didn’t just happen to be here?

NRH: What do you mean by “just happen to be here?” Things don’t just happen to be anywhere. They are manufactured by intelligent, thinking human beings, distributed to stores or online sales sites, sold to other human beings. Those human beings purchase and make use of those items – like watches such as this one.

S: But how do you know it was manufactured, distributed, sold, used, and now lost? I think this watch just evolved over billions of years and came to be here at just this time. After all there are zillions of places in the universe, bazillions of situations that can come together over time, and things can just happen – surely at least once in a bazillion times.

NRH: Seriously?!? Look, it’s set at the right time. It has signs of wear. It says, “Made in India” on the back. “Stainless Steel Bezel.” Some factory in Deli or somewhere like that turns these out by the thousands.

S: Have you ever seen a watch factory?

Well, dear reader, have you? And yet the most obvious and reasonable understanding of this fanciful encounter is that the watch was manufactured in a watch factory, distributed, sold, used, and dropped by someone.

Why would we draw any different conclusion about the starry host, creation, a flower, or the human hand? Creation’s testimony is clear: There is a god.

But, wait. There’s more to be said here. This God has made himself known. And those to whom he has revealed himself have given testimony. We have that testimony in the pages of Scripture. The psalmist begins with the testimony of creation but then begins to speak of God’s word. His law is perfect, sure, right, and pure says David.

God’s word adds to the testimony of creation and points us to the LORD God and his ways. David speaks of God’s Law, precepts, commands and rules. They revive the soul, give wisdom, joy and enlightenment. They endure forever, are perfectly righteous, precious and sweet. There are great blessings to be had in their keeping.

Creation sings a song of praise to God. Those who hear and read God’s word are blessed so that they too join that song of praise. An even better declaration of praise pours from the hearts of those who hear, read, meditate on, and believe God’s word.

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Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

White Vein-Take 2 | Hawaii | March 2022

My grandmother lived by herself far out in the country. As she got older she also got less skilled in her driving. That didn’t stop her from going into the nearby small town for groceries and other errands. She would get behind the wheel of her 1955 Buick and hit the road. One time, however, she didn’t hit the road, or the bridge over Crooked Creek. She drove off the bridge and the car rolled into the creek. The windshield shattered in thousands of pieces, yet held in place because it was safety glass.

She was knocked unconscious. And when she came to, the sun was streaking through the prisms of the shattered windshield. The sight must have been amazing, for when she told us about it she said, “When I woke up and saw it, Law I thought I was in glory!” I think “Law” was a way of not using the Lord’s name in vain while expressing the significance of a thing.

What a wonderful way to look at things: to catch a glimpse of glory. But it doesn’t take a shattered windshield to catch a glimpse of glory. Venture outside on a cold winter night, far from the city’s light pollution, and look at the starry sky. You’ll see a glimpse of God’s glory. The heavens declare it according to this psalm.

The heavens bear witness to the creative glory of God. Who could create a masterpiece such as this? Only God. Who could set the stars in the sky, assign the planets their course of travel, orbits, and rotations? Only God. Who could number the stars? Only God. And he has done all these things.

God’s “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 (and we) are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). He claims exclusive rights to all of creation and has the last say in judging good and evil. God challenges Job and us:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
    or loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
    or can you guide the Bear with its children?
33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
    Can you establish their rule on the earth? -Job 38:4-7, 31-33

As David says in Psalm 8:3-5

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

The heavens declare the glory of God. Will we echo their songs of glory and praise?

Please pray these psalms with me on this Lord’s Day.

Psalm 15

Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
    Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
    and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
    and does no evil to his neighbor,
    nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
    but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
    and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.

Psalm 45:6-7

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
    The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;
    you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
    with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.

Psalm 75

We give thanks to you, O God;
    we give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds.

“At the set time that I appoint
    I will judge with equity.
When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants,
    it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah
I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
    and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn;
do not lift up your horn on high,
    or speak with haughty neck.’”

For not from the east or from the west
    and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
    putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
    with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
    and all the wicked of the earth
    shall drain it down to the dregs.

But I will declare it forever;
    I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.
10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
    but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.

Psalm 105:1-7

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

He is the Lord our God;
    his judgments are in all the earth.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
    let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.

Psalm 135:1-5

Praise the Lord!
Praise the name of the Lord,
    give praise, O servants of the Lord,
who stand in the house of the Lord,
    in the courts of the house of our God!
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;
    sing to his name, for it is pleasant!
For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself,
    Israel as his own possession.

For I know that the Lord is great,
    and that our Lord is above all gods.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016.
Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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Psalm 14

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is none who does good.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and do not call upon the LORD?

There they are in great terror,
for God is with the generation of the righteous.
You would shame the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is his refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

Garden Dahlia | Dearborn, MI | August 2022

A friend and I were talking about our experiences in an evangelism program in which we were involved. We would visit families in their homes and share the gospel with them. The outline of that presentation included the necessity of God’s forgiveness because of our sin. All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God, we would say (citing Romans 3:23). We would also share other passages, such as The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:20). Jeff told me, “When I shared that passage the man had a visible reaction. He actually was shocked by it.” We also shared this passage: There is no one who does good, not even one (v. 3).

Today, not so much. Seems to me we’ve all gotten quite used to a tip-of-the-hat-to-our-sin approach to our need for God’s forgiveness. We’ve sanitized the cross of Jesus turning it into jewelry and certainly not sporting an actual crucifix (with the body of Jesus nailed to the cross). I’m no fan of the crucifix, but to minimize our need for forgiveness, to make little our sin is to ignore the suffering of Jesus – something which the gospel writers devote 30% of their narratives. After all, what did Jesus do for the man lowered through the roof by his friends? First he forgave his sins. Then he healed him.

We all have a list of needs. They range from the most basic of food and shelter, to the higher needs of meaning and purpose. In the sleepless hours of the night they intrude: worries about finances, concerns about family members, distress over world events, anxiety about a friend’s health, deep concerns over a loved-one’s distance from God. But our deepest need is for a righteousness not our own; a righteousness that puts all these things in perspective. In that righteousness we have peace.

This psalm is a lament of God over the sinfulness of humankind. It is a rueful expression of disappointment on God’s part that there are none who care for the poor, call upon him in prayer, or do the good he calls for. On the one hand this is an overstatement, for we also see references to the poor and the righteous. They are not under the same judgment. On the other hand, even the righteous must repent daily for our thoughts and words leak out, showing an inner corruption from which we have not fully escaped. And sometimes, we must be numbered among those who do not do good. Sometimes our thoughts become words and our words lead to actions for which we must repent. We are among those who have turned aside.

Thank God we have a champion of righteousness! Our Lord Jesus Christ is the righteousness of God and our righteousness also by faith. Through his suffering and death our sins are forgiven. By his perfect life our faith puts us in the league of the righteous. For Jesus’ sake we can both confess our sins, and rejoice in God’s salvation. For it has come out of Zion. Our urgent need has been met. And we have been saved.

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Psalm 14

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is none who does good.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and do not call upon the LORD?

There they are in great terror,
for God is with the generation of the righteous.
You would shame the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is his refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

Brittlebush | Phoenix, AZ | February 2022

“In peace, in peace we pray to you…” So begins the Holden Evening Prayer litany and prayer. The refrain throughout the prayer is a beautiful and appropriate call: “God of mercy, hold us in love.” I’ve included a YouTube video below of that beautiful prayer, preceded by the text of the prayer itself. In light of this psalm, it seems to me very appropriate that we call on the God of mercy to hold us in love.

Based on the words and thoughts of this psalm, I offer this rephrasing of this beautiful litany.

Refrain (Sung by all after each verse.)

God of mercy, hold us in love.

Leader:

  • In peace, in peace we pray to you:
  • Awaken in us a new sense of your wisdom:
  • Fill cold, hardened hearts with humility’s kindness:
  • Bring goodness and kindness from all the repentant:
  • Redeem and restore those who have turned from your pathways:
  • Move hearts, hands, and voices to feed and bring comfort:
  • Receive hurting people who cry for salvation:
  • Send healing and hope to our loved ones who suffer:
  • Restore joy to all who rely on your favor:
  • Grant peace, hope, and gladness to all your belov-ed:
  • Help us, comfort us, all of our days:

All: Keep us, hold us, gracious God.

Leader:

Great and merciful God, Source and Ground of all goodness and life, give to your people the peace that passes all understanding, and the will to live you Gospel of mercy and justice, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All: Amen

These thoughts spring from an awareness of some dear people’s struggles and need for God’s mercy and favor in the face of loved-ones’ needs for physical healing, and their own peace of heart and mind. Thinking especially of Elise and Grayson, whose grandparents are good friends of ours. God of mercy hold us in love! Amen.

Holden Evening Prayer: Litany & Prayer

Refrain (Sung by all after each verse.)

God of mercy, hold us in love.

Leader: 1. In peace, in peace we pray to you:

2. For peace and salvation, we pray to you:

3. For peace between nations, peace between peoples:

4. For we who are gathered to worship and praise you:

5. For all of your servants who live out your gospel:

6. For all those who govern that justice might guide them:

7. For all those who labor in service to others:

8. Grant weather that nourishes all of creation:

9. Keep watch on our loved ones and keep us from danger:

10: For all the beloved who rest in your mercy:

Help us, comfort us, all of our days:

All: Keep us, hold us, gracious God.

Leader: Great and merciful God, Source and Ground of all goodness and life, give to your people the peace that passes all understanding, and the will to live you Gospel of mercy and justice, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All: Amen

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Psalm 14

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is none who does good.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and do not call upon the LORD?

There they are in great terror,
for God is with the generation of the righteous.
You would shame the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is his refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

Ibis | Cypress, TX | December 2020

One of the privileges I have in my work for the Texas District of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod is assisting and advising congregations that are seeking a new pastor. This is a significantly-positive process. The people of the church are excited and eager to find a new pastor. The reports they generate and data gathering they do focus them toward their mission and help them think of how effectively or intentionally they are pursuing God’s purposes. The reports and guidance I provide remind them of God’s desire for the lost to be found, and disciples to be made.

Part of that search involves looking for particular gifts and skills of the various pastors they consider. There are the usual and expected qualifications: faithful to Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions, ability to teach, preach, and administer the affairs of the church. They also often want someone to reach the youth of the congregation and community. And often they will express a desire for their pastor to have an impact and involvement in the community.

I like to offer an encouragement to look at the 5 C’s that are important to effective pastoral leadership: Character, Calling, Capacity, Chemistry, and Competency. I love to point out that someone who is very gifted and has both great capacity and competency can be extraordinarily destructive to the church and the gospel witness if he does not have strong moral character.

Looking at this psalm, I am reminded of God’s desire for all his people. These things don’t just apply to leaders, but to all of us. He is looking for people who do good. He desires we be righteous–just in our dealings with one another. He values people who seek him. He cares if we care for the poor. He delights when we call upon him in prayer.

Those who live in this manner have no terror of his retribution. And even when we realize we have transgressed against these character markers, we who repent of our sin and return to his ways have no fear of his judgment. For our God is a gracious God. He has delivered us from judgment and condemnation. Salvation has come out of Zion. Jesus has come and saved us. For his sake we live out wisdom’s precious practices.