Psalm 1 – Choose Real Happiness

The truly happy person
    doesn’t follow wicked advice,
    doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
    and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
Instead of doing those things,
    these persons love the Lord’s Instruction,
    and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!
They are like a tree replanted by streams of water,
    which bears fruit at just the right time
    and whose leaves don’t fade.
        Whatever they do succeeds
.

That’s not true for the wicked!
    They are like dust that the wind blows away.
And that’s why the wicked will have no standing in the court of justice—
    neither will sinners
    in the assembly of the righteous.
The Lord is intimately acquainted
    with the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked is destroyed. (Common English Bible)

True happiness happens when we conform to disciplines of a good life and eschew practices that go against the grain of goodness. That statement might be a bit difficult to accept. Frankly, it is for me, and I wrote it.

You see, I’m not much of a conformity sort of guy. I like creatively doing my own thing, man. Bucking the system and questioning the rules is just something I do. Conformity tends to have a negative connotation with me – like a group of unthinking lemmings running off a cliff to their death.

Yet, the truth is that, although there is a wide range of creative choices we have for most everything, we as humans best function and discover happiness when we are in sync with our Creator. So, we can choose to ignore our foundational human hard-wiring, or we can live into it as the unique individuals we are.

Those two ways of shaping our lives are the path of the righteous and the path of the wicked. The way of the righteous leads to human flourishing, relational connection, and a vast spiritual life. Alternatively, the way of the wicked leads to human degeneration, disconnection from others, and spiritual death. It is to be out of sync with who we are as people.

Distinguishing between the righteous and the wicked is not always as easy as it looks. Only at the end of the age, when the Day of Judgment comes, will we know for certain the righteous and the wicked.

The magisterial Reformer of the sixteenth-century, Martin Luther, framed the two opposing ways as the theology of the cross and the theology of glory. The cross of Christ is G-d’s attack on human sin. Through being crucified with Christ, we find the way to human flourishing and life. It is the narrow road of grace.

A theology of glory is seeking to be radically independent – to rely primarily, perhaps even exclusively, on our own laurels and personal way of doing things. Although these might appear to be outwardly fine, they feed and water themselves from a wicked stream, devoid of grace.

Whenever we place our complete trust in self and forsake faith in something or someone outside of ourselves, it is a highway to the grave.

It is far too easy to place faith in our good works and to do good so that others will observe our goodness, rather than doing them out of the good soil of being planted in ancient and wise instruction.

Embracing tried and true practices of righteousness; delighting in G-d’s law; meditating on sound instruction; privately pouring over the large body of wisdom we have available to us; and diligently seeking to put it all into action is the way of good people who shall surely realize human happiness. They will yield gracious fruit. They will know blessing.

Joyful are people of integrity,
    who follow the instructions of the Lord.
Joyful are those who obey his laws
    and search for him with all their hearts.

Psalm 119:1-2, NLT

Serving only to be seen; seeking public accolades and personal recognition as a sole motivator; and disrespecting others to prop up individual respect is the way of the wicked. They don’t bother to consult the ancient ways of happiness. Instead, they pridefully believe they know what is best.

“You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.” (Matthew 23:27-28, MSG)

Abundance, generosity, gentleness, and grace marks the righteous because G-d is abundantly gracious and generous. Jesus is the gentle shepherd who mercifully and lovingly leads anxious sheep to the quiet pastures of settled happiness. Indeed, the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.

Only looking out for number one, stinginess, withholding good, hoarding, and angry criticism identifies the wicked. They have judgment in their future because they add no value to the great needs of humanity. Unhappiness is their lot.

We have choices. We can choose conformity to established patterns of godly instruction and happiness – or we can choose to rely solely on our own ingenuity and/or brawn to eke out a morsel of satisfaction.

Choose wisely, my friends.

O Holy Wisdom, direct us on your path. Make us worthy of your teachings and open our hearts to accept your embrace, that we may serve you in peace and grace. Amen.

Psalm 144:9-15 – Rescued from Evil

Rescued by Rodney J. Parrott

O God, let me sing a new song to you,
    let me play it on a twelve-string guitar—
A song to the God who saved the king,
    the God who rescued David, his servant.

Rescue me from the enemy sword,
    release me from the grip of those barbarians
Who lie through their teeth,
    who shake your hand
    then knife you in the back.

Make our sons in their prime
    like sturdy oak trees,
Our daughters as shapely and bright
    as fields of wildflowers.
Fill our barns with great harvest,
    fill our fields with huge flocks;
Protect us from invasion and exile—
    eliminate the crime in our streets.

How blessed the people who have all this!
How blessed the people who have God for God! (The Message)

Evil lurks everywhere. It resides in the human heart, hidden in the dark shadows, coming out sideways through shameful lies and guilty actions. Evil is also found throughout the world in every institution, organization, and group, ensconced as systemic injustice – hoarding resources for the powerful at the expense of the powerless.

Since there is wickedness found in all places and with all people, evil needs to be dealt with and expunged from both heinous hearts as well as the hoarding habitations of injustice. Part of the solution is to do away with all obstacles which stand in the way of human flourishing.

To be sure, the heart of humanity must be dealt with and be the focus of change. Yet, if we only focus one-dimensionally on evil, it will persist, and even grow into monstrous proportions, unless we equally direct our right and just efforts on institutional and systemic evil.

People and their institutions need deliverance from the power of evil in the world. And for that to happen, the hindrances and handicaps to human thriving must be eliminated.

Our entire concept of salvation needs a fuller scope. Not only do individuals need personal deliverance from sin, death, and hell, so do entire societies. Complete systemic rescue from oppressive obstacles is a must. Far too many people in this fallen world are weighed down from institutional sin.

Christ obeyed God our Father and gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins to rescue us from this evil world.

Galatians 1:4, CEV

To place this in a different context, the genius of the American experiment was that the founding fathers (and mothers!) of the United States created a political and societal system which sought to eliminate class distinctions and allowed people of lower means to achieve land ownership and business acumen simply through hard work and thrift.

Unfortunately, the experiment only extended largely to white men. Native American and African American people still had huge systemic obstacles to overcome. And the new republic had different expectations for it’s women. It took a Civil War and decades of grueling work to address political and social change (not to mention religious). We are still laboring to truly give liberty and justice to all and achieve the ideal of an egalitarian nation.

We, as both individuals and citizens, need divine intervention through deliverance. Like Gilligan and the crew of the Minnow stranded on a deserted island, we seek to be rescued – knowing we need help beyond ourselves for salvation.

Rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:13, NRSV

The psalmist looked ahead in hope, convinced that a good God will deliver and provide good people with everything they need to thrive and flourish in this life, and in the life to come.

If God doesn’t fight our overwhelming battles for us, we are lost. This present darkness, this ancient and contemporary evil, is an extremely powerful foe. However, the Lord is greater and will have the last word.

Christianity asserts that Jesus is the pioneer of our salvation and the once for all answer to the problem of evil for both the world and the human heart. Christ, in other words, is the fulfillment of the psalmist’s prayers for deliverance, health, and hope.

In his earthly ministry, Jesus did not give explanations for our pain and sorrow. Instead, Jesus comes where our pain is most acute and takes it upon himself – bringing healing and hope. The Lord tackles evil, not by having a Zoom conference on the subject of wickedness, but by allowing evil to do its worst to him. Christ exhausts evil by draining it of its power, emerging resurrected with new life for all.

The good news is this: Jesus is Lord and has defeated the powers of evil. Now, reform can occur. Hearts can change. Systems can be revamped. God’s new world has begun.

God rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins.

Colossians 1:13-14, CEB

I, personally, am a Christian because I believe God is the one who satisfies the passion for justice, the longing for spirituality, the hunger for relationship, and the yearning for beauty. I see God in Jesus of Nazareth, the world’s true Lord.

Hope, like the psalmist expressed, is what you get when you realize a different worldview is possible. Hope springs to life when those experiencing and feeling the brunt of evil in the world become acutely aware that the rich, the powerful, and the unscrupulous are not the ones really in charge.

“Our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to a world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion…”

N. T. Wright

May you know the place and the person of rescue from evil. And may you be buoyant in faith, confident in hope, and overflowing with love.

Psalm 11 – Fight, Flight, or Faith

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Lord is my fortress!
    Don’t say to me,
    “Escape like a bird
    to the mountains!”
You tell me, “Watch out!
Those evil people
    have put
    their arrows on their bows,
and they are standing
in the shadows,
    aiming at good people.
What can an honest person do
    when everything crumbles?”

The Lord is sitting
in his sacred temple
    on his throne in heaven.
He knows everything we do
    because he sees us all.
The Lord tests honest people,
but despises those
    who are cruel
    and love violence.
He will send fiery coals
and flaming sulfur
    down on the wicked,
and they will drink nothing
    but a scorching wind.

The Lord always does right
    and wants justice done.
    Everyone who does right
    will see his face. (Contemporary English Version)

Part of the human condition is that we will eventually take the brunt of someone’s poison darts. And it’s scary. In our state of fear, and sometimes panic, will we fight, flight, or faith?

Fight, Flight, or Freeze by Qieer Wang

If you have ever received a nasty email based on half-truths and accusations; stood dumbfounded as someone hurled misinformation and criticism at you; and/or experienced the victimization that comes from slanderous and gossiping tongues, then the psalmist knows exactly how you feel. 

Cobbling together a hasty email response, full of anger and vitriol, only sucks us into the person’s evil ways. Metaphorically punching someone in the face for their slap to your face is how the demonic realm handles offenses. Fighting back with an equal or greater force is diametrically opposed to the way of Jesus in loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us.

Then, there is the response of taking flight from the nastiness. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if good people are always getting swallowed whole by unjust words and behaviors directed squarely at them. And it doesn’t help when the downers among us stroll along and give us their unhelpful fatalism about how there is nothing we can do and how nothing will ever change.

To be the target of evil speech or malevolent actions is, at the least, unsettling, and, at worst, can bring years of struggle, depression, and inability to serve. Yet, there is someone who sees it all, and that someone will address the wrong. We have an option beyond fighting back in anger or fleeing altogether in fear. We can trust God.

“Pray, and let God do the worrying.”

Martin Luther

The Lord sits aloft, overseeing all, and knows everything humanity does and says. God always does right and wants justice done. Everyone who shares a divine sense of what is right and just will see God’s face. God will act because the Lord abhors and despises those who are cruel and enjoy violence.

It’s not a good idea to get on God’s bad side. The way to flare God’s anger is by possessing an acerbic tongue; relishing in verbal violence; and, having no remorse about any of it. Because God loves people, God hates evil. The righteous are to take solace in the truth that God really does see the harm done and is in a position to do something about it. Like the psalmist, we seek the Lord. The Lord fights our battles.

Whenever we are harassed and the ungodly give us a hard time, the psalmist isn’t just offering some nice religious platitudes such as, “Just let go and let God,” “Everything works for the good of those who love God,” or “It’s okay, you’ll be in heave someday.”

In another context, maybe those statements are helpful. But being in the teeth of the wicked, all is not okay. As much as some folks try to sanitize an evil situation with rainbows and butterflies, the evil is real, and it’s there. The truth is that everything is not okay. The earth is filled with violence, malevolence, oppression, injustice, and systemic evil. The psalmist knows this, all too well.

Humble yourselves under God’s power so that he may raise you up in the last day. Throw all your anxiety onto him because he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:6-7, CEB)

Today’s psalm is reminding and assuring us that the Lord is aware of what’s going on and will most certainly do something about it. God will act to punish the wicked and deliver the Lord’s people. There may not be peace this present moment, yet it will not always be this way. We shall behold the face of the Lord.

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Corrie Ten Boom

The Lord is a righteous judge. Justice is the foundation of God’s throne. God sees the entire spectrum of humanity and can make a right assessment of people’s thoughts, intents, words, and actions. We, however, cannot. Therefore, it is most necessary for us to put our trust in a Divine Being who cares about right and wrong and has the power to act with justice.

Whenever we are hemmed-in through the schemes of diabolical persons and are powerless, there is always the choice to trust in the Lord. In the hands of God rest the outcome of every life on earth. And it will be a just and right rendering.

Trust in the Lord and do good. Seek peace and pursue it. We might struggle mightily on both the inside and outside – our hard circumstance might not change immediately – yet God is the One who will vindicate the just person when the time is right.

You are never alone. May the Lord be with you always.

God of justice, look at the state of your servant and act on my behalf. Do not let evil prevail. Thwart the ungodly so that they can no longer do any harm. Amen.

Psalm 101… Again

King David, by Unknown artist, c.14th century B.C.E.

I will sing of loyalty and of justice;
    to you, O Lord, I will sing.
I will study the way that is blameless.
    When shall I attain it?

I will walk with integrity of heart
    within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
    anything that is base.

I hate the work of those who fall away;
    it shall not cling to me.
Perverseness of heart shall be far from me;
    I will know nothing of evil.

One who secretly slanders a neighbor
    I will destroy.
A haughty look and an arrogant heart
    I will not tolerate.

I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,
    so that they may live with me;
whoever walks in the way that is blameless
    shall minister to me.

No one who practices deceit
    shall remain in my house;
no one who utters lies
    shall continue in my presence.

Morning by morning I will destroy
    all the wicked in the land,
cutting off all evildoers
    from the city of the Lord. (New Revised Standard Version)

Routine and repetition might seem tedious and boring. However, they are indispensable. People are designed for doing, saying, and thinking the same things over and over again. Habits help to press what is most important into our minds, our speech, and our behavior.

Transformation and change aren’t accomplished through sheer willpower. It happens through the small daily decisions of life. A mere ten minutes, dedicated specifically to a particular task each day, has the power to completely alter our lives.

The biblical psalms, read every day, out loud, through singing and praying, can bring an inside-out metamorphosis which can serve us for a lifetime. To help remind us of this, I sometimes include the psalm readings in my blog reflections two, even three, days in a row.

The Revised Common Lectionary is a method of reading through the Bible in a three-year cycle (Year A, B, C). Rather than reading the Bible from cover to cover, the Lectionary follows the seasons of the Christian Year (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Ordinary Time).

The advantage to reading the Bible with daily assigned texts from the Old Testament, Psalms, and the New Testament is that the reader has an opportunity to follow the life of Jesus through the course of a year. For a Christian who wants to grow in discipleship, the Lectionary is a helpful way of getting to know Christ better.

Another benefit of following the Lectionary readings is that they can be read slowly in about ten to fifteen minutes. This affords the opportunity to spend time reflecting and thinking about how the Bible applies to our life today. Since the daily readings relate to one another from various places in the Bible, it is a helpful way of keeping in mind the whole of Scripture.

The daily readings of the Lectionary revolve around the Sunday readings. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday readings reflect on the Sunday texts. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday prepare for Sunday. This has the obvious advantage for making Christian worship a special experience.

The purpose of the Lectionary is to encourage Bible reading, a well-rounded understanding of the Bible’s contents, as well as provide a good foundation for prayer. The Lectionary is meant to be a devotional reading of the Bible which draws people closer to God.

A consistent feature of the Revised Common Lectionary is that the same Psalm is read three days in a row. There is a reason for that. Psalms are meant for more than reading. They are also designed for prayer, singing, and worship.

Since I spiritually dwell a lot within the psalter, I have written out my own translation of many of them. I encourage you to read the following version out loud as a prayer to God….


God almighty, I will sing about your committed love and the exercise of your justice;
    and I will make music to and for you.
I have committed myself to wise discernment so I can walk in the way of integrity;
    so when will you come and help me?
    I will, with your assistance, establish integrity in my own home.
I refuse to set goals on worthless things which add no value to my life.
    I despise the actions of deviant and deceitful people,
    and I will not let their crud stick to me.
My mind and heart won’t go down that crooked path,
    for I will have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness.
The person who slanders another behind their back –
    well, just know, I will not put up with it!
The person who is full of themselves and looks down on others –
    believe you me, I will not tolerate it!

My eyes are fixated on pursuing trustworthy persons,

    and I will surround myself with them.

The person who walks in the way of integrity –

    for sure, will be my friend and confidant.
There is absolutely no room for deceitful hypocrites within my household,
    nor for any two-faced liar; they won’t be around me for long!
Every morning, without fail, I will practice justice,
    I will make it so evil persons cannot survive around me,
    effectively cutting-off troublemakers from your holy place.
Amen.