My atheist friends would disagree here, but it will be with Bacon and not with me. It is he who said:
"A little philosophy inclineth a man's mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion."
It raises two questions:
What do we mean by philosophy?
What do we mean by "deep?"
It also makes me think that a person might be religious without thinking himself religious or non-religious with a profound belief in God.
I take the classic and literal definition of "philosophy" as a guide. To derive it, deconstruct the word into their two parts and you have "love of wisdom."
Wisdom, in the Solomonic tradition, is practical and moral. It is practical in the sense that it is the practice of what is right and as such, an application of truth in daily living. It is moral in the sense that a man or woman might be clever and, at the same time, dishonest, rude, harsh, uncaring, ruthless, violent, or unjust, but he or she cannot be considered wise.
To be wise one must wrestle with what is ultimate and, in some unwritten dictionaries, ultimate issues are, by their nature, religious issues.
Deep things are also ultimate things. They are questions that penetrate beneath the surface and delve into the uncharted waters of the spirit. Questions such as, "What is spirit?" must be addressed with language that is essentially religious.
In some taxonomies, religion is a category of philosophy. To the theologian, it is the opposite. However one classifies the disciplines, philosophy is about how we think and what we think. Religion must be naturally deeper and brings a third party into our thought processes, who reveals, enlightens, troubles, challenges, and resolves issues in the realm of faith and experience.
The theologian presupposes, as do I, that the third party exists. The atheist or agnostic is either sure that He does not, suspects He does not, or wonders if He does. Nevertheless, there is a sense that in the search for ultimate concerns, one is standing on holy ground.
For theists like myself, the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11 help explain the experience of encountering wonder and awe in deep thoughts:
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." (New International Version)
Since we cannot fathom it, we need to continue to think about it. In the meantime, nothing prevents us from experiencing its beauty and, if we will, worshiping the God who first thought about it.
I have no big problem with my atheist friends who are co-seekers of truth. They might have a problem with me because I have stopped considering a god-less universe to be an option in much the same way I have stopped doubting my own existence. However, that is not to say that I am, in any way, an expert on God, that I understand God, or that I can speak with certainty on every question regarding God's will.
I have experienced God in Jesus Christ and that has brought me perspective, conviction, encouragement, and most of all, grace.
It does not necessarily make me religious in the best sense of the word unless I am willing to go deeper with and in my philosophy. Thinking will never be obsolete, even for the one who has settled on God.
"Whatsoever things are ... think on these things."
This portrait of Louisa was done by famed artist by Mary Shepard Greene Blumenschein in 1912, shortly after her divorce from Newton Booth Tarkington.
This is the birthday of Newton Booth Tarkington, July 29, 1869.
He was an American novelist and dramatist best known for his novels The Magnificent Ambersons (1918) and Alice Adams (1921).
Along with William Faulkner, John Updike, and Colson Whitehead, he was one of only four novelists to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction twice.
In his time, he was considered United States greatest living author.
However, it is his wife that I most remember for one poem to her credit, "The Land of Beginning Again."
There was sadness in Louisa Fletcher Tarkington's life.
Louisa was the wife of noted novelist, playwright, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Booth Tarkington. He died in 1946. They married in 1902 and had a daughter, Laurel in 1906. He was an alcoholic and she divorced him in 1911. Laurel developed schizophrenia and died of pneumonia at the age of 16.
I would love to find more references to her life, her personal pain, and her philosophy of living. Usually we hear just one verse of this poem, which I is now in the public domain.
The Land of Beginning Again
I wish that there were some wonderful place Called the Land of Beginning Again Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches And all of our selfish grief Could be dropped like a shabby old coat by the door And never be put on again.
I wish we could come on it all unaware Like the hunter who finds a lost trail And I wish that the one whom our blindness has done The greatest injustice of all Could be at the gates like an old friend that waits For the comrade he's gladdest to hail. We would find all the things we intended to do But forgot, and remembered too late; Little praises unspoken, little promises broken And all of the thousand and one Little duties neglected that might have perfected The day for one less fortunate. It wouldn't be possible not to be kind In the Land of Beginning Again
And the ones we misjudged and the ones whom we grudged Their moments of victory then Would find in the grasp of our loving handclasp More than penitent lips could explain. For what had been hardest we'd know had been best And what had seemed loss would be gain For there isn't a sting that will not take a wing When we've faced it and laughed it away, And I think that the laughter is most what we're after In the Land of Beginning Again.
So I wish that there were some wondered place Called the Land of Beginning Again Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches And all of our selfish grief Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door And never be put on again.
This has always been one of my favorite bible prayers. It has always provided me words to express my own heart in times when I could not find the right words myself.
It says what so many of us, so often, feel.
Even as it empowers us to reach into the darkness within our hearts, it encourages us to find hope and resolve.
Pray it. Don't just read it.
Pray it slowly, pausing over the phrases that will become your prayers for this day.
It is a thoroughly, reusable psalm that will give you new meaning and new expression each time you pray it.
At times, you will only need the first few words, "Save me, O God." And you may stop there.
Sometimes, it has been for me, "O God, you know my foolishness."
There have been moments when I have only mustered the strength to pray, "I have grown weary with my crying."
Often, I have prayed, “In your great mercy, O God, answer me with your unfailing help."
I never enjoy admitting that "shame has covered my face," but God knows, hears, and welcomes me though "my faults are not hidden from God."
The writer-singer-psalmist-petitioner has sought help and comfort from others, but only finds acceptance, assistance, and compassion in God.
God is swift to help in our distress.
One of my favorite prayers within this prayer has always been, "let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me."
It has been a prayer of mine in times of pain, suffering, discouragement, temptation, and trial. It has taken my mind away from an inward focus on my problems to the implication of my life and witness and its effect on others'. It has given purpose and meaning to my own struggles.
"I will proclaim his greatness with thanksgiving," is the cry of praise and the promise of hope for "the Lord listens to the needy...and his prisoners he does not despise."
Enjoy your prayer time. ---------------------------------
Psalm 69 (NRSV) Salvum me fac
Save me, O God,
for the waters have risen up to my neck. I am sinking in deep mire,
and there is no firm ground for my feet. I have come into deep waters,
and the torrent washes over me. I have grown weary with my crying; my throat is inflamed;
my eyes have failed from looking for my God. Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head; my lying foes who would destroy me are mighty.
Must I then give back what I never stole? O God, you know my foolishness,
and my faults are not hidden from you. Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord GOD of hosts;
let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel. Surely, for your sake have I suffered reproach,
and shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my own kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children. Zeal for your house has eaten me up;
the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me. I humbled myself with fasting,
but that was turned to my reproach. I put on sack-cloth also,
and became a byword among them. Those who sit at the gate murmur against me,
and the drunkards make songs about me. But as for me, this is my prayer to you,
at the time you have set, O LORD: “In your great mercy, O God,
answer me with your unfailing help. Save me from the mire; do not let me sink;
let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters. Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up;
do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me. Answer me, O LORD, for your love is kind;
in your great compassion, turn to me.” “Hide not your face from your servant;
be swift and answer me, for I am in distress. Draw near to me and redeem me;
because of my enemies deliver me. You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor;
my adversaries are all in your sight.” Reproach has broken my heart, and it cannot be healed;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I could find no one. They gave me gall to eat,
and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink. [Let the table before them be a trap
and their sacred feasts a snare. Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see,
and give them continual trembling in their loins. Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let the fierceness of your anger overtake them. Let their camp be desolate,
and let there be none to dwell in their tents. For they persecute him whom you have stricken
and add to the pain of those whom you have pierced. Lay to their charge guilt upon guilt,
and let them not receive your vindication. Let them be wiped out of the book of the living
and not be written among the righteous.] As for me, I am afflicted and in pain;
your help, O God, will lift me up on high. I will praise the Name of God in song;
I will proclaim his greatness with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an offering of oxen,
more than bullocks with horns and hoofs. The afflicted shall see and be glad;
you who seek God, your heart shall live. For the LORD listens to the needy,
and his prisoners he does not despise. Let the heavens and the earth praise him,
the seas and all that moves in them; For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah;
they shall live there and have it in possession. The children of his servants will inherit it,
Alas! The grass is greener over there! And lest I let it pass, I declare, "Where?" A question, yes, but more, to harass. At it's core, the demographic of geographic Mass personality shall pass When tested by reality. Folks are just folks everywhere. A handsome lad, a pretty lass, Gracious souls and the occasional jackass.
You will never find better people by moving elsewhere.
Wherever you live, you will find the sort of people you expect to find.
The most important reason is because you take the main person everywhere you go, packed in your boxes, multiplied by however many mirrors you own.
If you are looking for friendly, open, kind, generous, non-judgmental people, you will find them in every city and village you can locate on the map.
If you are looking for hateful, vindictive, manipulative, dishonest, and judgmental people, they are everywhere too.
You will most likely attract the same people as your neighbor, but you may see them differently.
The best folks you can attract to yourself are neither perfect nor horrible; they are just people with lots of problems and flaws and many, many wonderful strengths, engaging stories, a much love to give and receive.
Geography does not define character or value, but our attitudes may.
The best way to find better people is to focus less on changing location and focus more on changing how we think and relate to people.
Our Father in Heaven, God of the Universe, I begin this day in a state of seeking, hungry, thirsty, lowly and lifted.
I come as a man washed and yet, desiring to enter the depths of the river and flow with its mighty course, fresh and free.
I drink from the fountain of grace and drink again and, while satisfied, ever desiring to drink more that its nurturing presence might enter deeper and deeper into my soul.
I pray with some knowledge and much ignorance for those who also cry out, "Our Father ..."
I embrace them in every yearning of my soul and join in their concerns with every "amen." We are many and we are one and in Your Son, there is no contradiction and there is no condemnation and there is no competition.
Your love is abundant and free.
Your people, made in Your image, have Your attention and You have created them uniquely and wonderfully to each reflect some facet of Your character.
Grant that I might see You in each person I meet today and may Your love flow through me to them and may You draw us each unto Yourself in the Strong embrace of Jesus and the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
"Civilization is not to be judged by the rapidity of communication, but by the value of what is communicated." ~G.K. Chesterton: "Illustrated London News," 'America and Barbarism.' Feb. 16, 1907.
I walked into a room of 8-10 young people and was stunned by the silence. They were sitting together and not saying a word, a room full of people with a common goal to serve the people in the hospital, waiting in silence for their next assignment.
I broke the silence.
It is so quite in here, not my lifetime experience with teenagers with whom I have engaged for a lifetime.
The young man behind the desk said, "They are all chatting with their friends."
I love this medium. I truly do. It helps me to make many, many new friends and stay in touch with others, but all the wonderful energy and the great bank of ideas and experience in that room and none of the people were benefiting from it by getting to know each other and look into each others eyes and clasp hands in new friendships.
"Civilization is not to be judged by the rapidity of communication, but by the value of what is communicated."
I am sure that much of value was communicated, but not in that potentially wonderful community of the moment.
And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them,
When ye pray, say,
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
- Luke 11:1-4
Jesus teaches us to focus our hearts on the real issues in prayer: relationship with God, reverence for God, Kingdom concerns, practical needs, personal purity, and victory over sin.
“Our Father,” He allowed us to say with confidence and love. It accentuates our intimate and loving relationship with God. He rejoices to receive us into His presence and hear our prayers.
“Hallowed be Thy Name.” No matter how intimate we are with God, He is God and we are not. He deserves our reverence and worship. We are not only His children, but His subjects.
His kingdom and will are our deep concerns in prayer. Kingdom motivation is the heart of praying in Jesus’ Name. We seek and request His will as we submit ourselves to His Lordship. This sort of praying pleases the heart of God.
We pray for daily bread because God wants to provide for our needs. He also wants us to ask. We bring our practical needs to God knowing that He is more concerned about our needs than we are
When we seek and offer forgiveness, we place ourselves on the altar of personal purity. We are asking God to remove any hindrance to what He desires to do in our lives, be that our own sin or our bitterness toward those who have sinned against us.
Finally, in Luke’s account, Jesus reminds us to keep our eyes on the prize and pray for victory over evil and temptation. The fact that we are authorized to pray this way gives us more than a clue that it is God’s intention to give us the victory.
So, our Master taught us to pray and so we ought to pray. In these few sentences all the prayers we will ever need to pray are included.
Bold Praying and Gracious Giving
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened… If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? - Luke 11:9–10, 13
Jesus raises two issues. One is concerning what sort of praying people we ought to be. The other is what sort of God is it to whom we pray.
We are called to persistence and consistency in prayer. We are to be like the desperate and audacious friend who goes to his neighbor at midnight seeking bread to feed his guest. That kind of boldness gets God’s attention. He wants to develop that in us.
If we ask, we will receive. If we seek, we will find. If we knock, the door will be opened. E.M. Bounds says that God has placed himself under the law of prayer. He is Sovereign. He can do that. It is His choice. He has chosen to respond to prayer for His own reasons.
One may be the change that it affects in our own lives and the intimacy that is facilitated when we enter into partnership with God concerning the things that concern Him.
Jesus says that the neighbor, who is just a man and subject to sinful motivations, responded to the boldness of his friend and not to his friendship. By contrast, God is our Heavenly Father who is always waiting up for us. His light is always on and His delight is to give us good gifts.
That is who God is and His greatest delight is to give us the Holy Spirit, who incidentally, teaches us to pray from within and prays for us and through us.
We have two very major reasons to pray boldly: because bold prayer gets action and because we have a generous God who happens to be our Heavenly Father.
What if we simply had a self-imposed moratorium on saying anything unkind to or about anyone or any group of people?
What if, when tempted to criticize a group or a person, we looked for seeds of that same fault in ourselves and started working on it?
What if, when feeling the need to talk about temptation and sin, we used our own struggles as the illustration of how God can help us overcome?
What if we were willing to take the worst seat, be slighted, spend and be spent, and practice all the other calls to simple, humble, gracious living that Jesus and the apostles taught?
What if we simply decided not to take offense and not to seek retaliation in any form for a season?
Maybe a month? A year?
I think it might work so well for us and the peace that it brought to our hearts might be so compelling that we might decide to extend those times until it became a lifetime lifestyle?
And what if, when we saw a brother or sister on a path of self-destruction, we refrained from discussing that with anyone else, but took first steps to go to that person and offer our help out of the trap?
I think we could render lots of discussions and debates moot and find that lots of logjams would simply break loose and let the water flow.
Public Domain - An 18th-century Dutch engraving of the peoples of the world, depicting the inhabitants of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas in their typical dress. Shown below are an Englishman, a Dutchman, a German and a Frenchman. - J. Ratelband & J. Bouwer - Series of school engravings by J. Ratelband & J. Bouwer first published in Amsterdam (1767 -1779).
We often think of prejudice as merely manifest in angry avarice and dislike of people from other cultures, races, or ideologies.
That is certainly one such manifestation, but it is not the most prevalent. If it were, many of us could dismiss ourselves from the indictment with the words, "I hate no one" and be perfectly sincere, honest, and innocent.
However, there is a glitch in that thinking.
The most common manifestation of prejudice against people is not hatred; it is fear.
Fear is a powerful force and can express itself in fight or flight. Fear based upon generalized, false, or stereotyped assumptions is dangerous, ignorant, and hurtful, but it is also curable.
It can be cured by exposure, conversation, knowledge, and experience.
That is why Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
Get out among some people who do not look, talk, think, or believe like you this weekend and spend more time asking questions and listening than giving answers and making assumptions. Then, report back what you have learned in a few days.
That will be a start, but the process is going to take time, excruciating self-examination, humility, commitment, and reorientation.
Luke 10:41-42 - And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Martha knew how to entertain with style. It took its toll on her. She was careful and troubled all the time, especially when she had company. Perhaps she was a perfectionist and that was no doubt a great strain on her body and soul. Mary knew how to be in the moment with Jesus. Jesus saw the value in both kinds of hospitality, but He wanted Martha to know that when tending to details interfered with tending to the Master Himself, just being with Him was all that really counted.
It is still what really counts.
It counts for the busy mother, the harried executive, the flustered teacher, the hard-driven salesman, and the politician in the pressure cooker of legislative compromise. It is what counts for the safety officer whose life is about responding to life or death emergencies, for the soldier who must be ever vigilant, and for the person caught up in the stress of ministry, working for the Lord.
We can get so absorbed with doing what needs to be done that we miss the one thing that is needed, a vital and ever deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. What did that mean for Mary who was commended for making the right choice?
Luke tells us that Mary sat at His feet and listened. We assume she was younger since it was Martha’s home. She was bold and eager and she was as absorbed in the words of the Master as Martha was in the work of the manor.
We must sit at His feet listening with youthful eagerness and bold audacity that puts our tasks in their place and elevates the times of devotional prayer, scriptural meditation, and reflection to the highest priority of our lives.
What Martha did that day would provide a meal and soon be forgotten. What Mary did could not be taken from her. It may seem that what startles you out of bed at the last minute tomorrow morning is the most important thing in the universe. It will not come close to the value of a relaxed and unhurried time at the feet of the Master. It is the one needed thing.
This is not today's sermon, but it fell off the cart in preparation for it as I was digging through things I had already written AND it is from one of today's psalms:
Psalm 15:1 - Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
The grand question introduces the next set of lessons from the psalms and sparks the imagination of all earnest seekers. As believers in Christ, we have the answer in the gospel, but the very asking of the question is a matter of opening to God for all that He desires to teach us.
Do not take truth for granted or treat it as if it were not ever new and renewing. Allow the question to move you to the next level of seeking as you go before the Father in prayer today.
Psalm 15:2 - … He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart…
Here we have an answer to the question posed yesterday, “Who may dwell in your sanctuary and live on your holy hill?” Consider this: not everyone wants that. For some, the price of letting go of blame and embracing righteousness is too much.
Truth is too threatening, and the lure of sin is too great. The psalmist however, longs for the presence of God and that is what it means to desire eternal life and heavenly bliss. It is not the beauty of the hill that captures the heart, but the beauty of God Himself.
To desire God is to desire the qualities that God brings to our lives: blamelessness through forgiveness, righteous behavior through the power of grace, and a heart of truth by the transformation of the Holy Spirit within us.
Let us pray for that heart change that redirects our focus from sin to God and then, our very longing for heaven will be indicative of our readiness to enter in.
Psalm 15:3 - … and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong, and casts no slur on his fellow man.
The man or woman who can stand with joy and confidence in the presence of God and fully embrace the wonder of His fellowship is in constant touch with his or her fellow human beings. Those relationships matter. They have affect upon and are affected by our vital and honest relationship with God. It is not possible to claim footing on the holy hill while usurping the place of a brother or sister.
Slander, malice, and simple disregard for the feelings of a neighbor are indicative of shaky spiritual grounding and contribute to spiritual tremblers in our fellowship with the Lord. Let the love of Christ enter your heart at the choice level in all of your dealings with those around you and express your deep desire to love God by loving others.
Psalm 15:4 - who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
As we have so often noted, we must begin with the vile man within each of us and register our disgust with the vileness of our own sin natures. But we must go beyond that point. If we will despise the vileness within us, we must also honor the new man or woman recreated in God’s image that reveres God and loves truth. That person lives inside of us as well and that person is fashioned by grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. He or she is the Christ-life gifted to us through new birth.
There are new values and a new integrity that is constantly going for truth no matter what it will cost because God is truth and nothing else matters more than God. If we will value and honor that person, it will grow and take over our lives. That is the person God has made you to be.
Psalm 15:5 - who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
What some have, in the past, called social gospel, the scriptures call justice and righteousness. It is a very clear matter to the earnest student of the Bible that one must deal fairly, honestly, and uprightly in every horizontal relationship if the vertical relationship with God is to flourish.
Allow dishonesty, greed, malice, and bitterness to enter into your heart in any dimension of your being and it will undermine your footing before God upon the holy hill where you presume to stand erect.
The key to unshakable spiritual growth is to despise that which is vile and embrace that which is holy and true and to never compromise our purity of purpose in seeking God – whether our eyes are fixed toward His sanctuary or upon His face in the eyes one of His children.
We lock ourselves and others in a room and throw away the key.
We do it as a knee jerk reaction. We do it quickly and we do it for reasons we do not always know.
We size people up and put them in boxes of our minds. We categorize them and assign them motives and characteristics based upon what we see filtered through the stories we have heard and the stories we have lived.
Occasionally, we are somewhat correct. The problem is, we are often wrong.
We cannot quickly change our knee jerk reactions, but we can train ourselves not to so readily believe and act upon them.
We can remember how often we have been wrong. We can think before we act. We can listen before we speak. We can deescalate rather than "standing our ground." We can learn new stories and discover new and more interesting profiles.
I have profiled people and I have been profiled.
But I am learning, have been learning, and will continue to be learning.
There is no escaping that we are, in part, products of our environments and the shared assumptions of those who surround us. We are always at the mercy of limited knowledge if we allow ourselves to be.
We are also capable of stepping back, reaching out, learning, growing, and loving.
I am so sad about the times I have blurted out my pontifical pronouncements based upon prejudicial assumptions. Mine are different than yours, perhaps, but they are still very, very dark. I am grateful that, in those times, I did not have a weapon on me other than the soul piercing sword of ill conceived words.
I am grateful for the restraining Hand upon my shoulder of One who does actually know me very well (and love me very, very well) to say "STOP! You are getting this all wrong."
What wonderful lessons of life I have learned from folks I might easily dismissed as having nothing to say.
And what a blessing it is in life that we can keep rewriting our own self-authored profile.
Luke 10:36-37 – Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
We all know the story. It was prompted by a question and occasioned by a teaching in response to a greater question. What we have here is the application: Go and do likewise. One question led to another, then to a story, and then to the lesson Jesus desired to imprint upon every heart: that everyone is our neighbor and that loving our neighbor is about making a practical and active decision to do so and following through regardless of our feelings.
A legal expert who sought to trap Jesus in His own words asked Him what was necessary to inherit eternal life. He turned the question back to him and to his knowledge and interpretation of the law.
“Love God and love your neighbor” was both the answer he gave and the one that Jesus Himself gave on another occasion when asked what the greatest commandment was. Jesus commended him and told him to go and do likewise.
That wasn’t enough for the lawyer. He needed an escape clause, something that limited his liability and reduced his responsibility.
“Define neighbor,” was his retort. So, Jesus told him the story of the Good Samaritan and put him in a real bind. He made the hero of the story an outcast from the social and religious life of the Jews. He told the story in such a way as to make the answer to the question obvious.
“Who was the neighbor? Was he one of those who left the poor man stranded by the road or the Samaritan who gave of himself and his means to help him?”
The lawyer answered generically, and Jesus responded specifically, “Go and do likewise.”
Go; live like an outcast among outcasts if you must, but practice love as you go. Love is not revealed in the words we speak or the sentiments we feel, but in the actions, we take in being neighbors to our neighbors.
"Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings".
Psalm 17:1 - Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer-it does not rise from deceitful lips.
One might think that the psalmist had stepped out of his time and looked upon ours to offer his commentary. The repulsive sight of the wicked strutting about in impunity is and always will be a source of grief to those who love God and His truth.
The deeper indignity and affront to God is that what is vile is honored among men as noble, good, true, artistic, or benevolent.
Little has changed. The values of society, left to its own devices, have always been at odds with God. We must carefully examine all that we place upon our cultural pedestals and pay homage to. God’s standards are different than those of the larger world.
We value what may contain a grain of truth, but it is so often distorted and ignoble.
The numerology of apocalyptic literature takes the number 6 and repeats it three times in contrast to the holiness of the complete Trinity. Thus, 666 represents the fullness of evil. The curious thing is that the number 6 is only one whole number shy of 7 – the number of perfection.
The lesson is almost hidden, but clear: That which is repugnant may be something that is very close to the truth (for instance, the devil quotes scripture and believes in God), but veers off the path of truth in a small way that is significant enough to altar everything.
It should be easy for the Christian to detect the blatant and flagrant abuses of truth, but be cautious that you are not caught up in the frenzy of honoring that which is popular just because it has an outer veneer of righteousness.
Psalm 17:2 - May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right.
In the first place, we must note that he is wrong about being abandoned and forgotten by God.
That is how he feels, but not the truth of the situation – and he most likely knows it in the depths of his being.
In the second place, it is OK for him to express this feeling to God because it is about emotional disclosure – not about theological accuracy.
Do not allow your desire to be theologically sound inhibit your honest prayers to God in the secrecy of your heart before Him.
Trust Him to correct any misconceptions you have.
He can do that as you address Him. You are not praying before an audience – not even an audience comprised of yourself and God.
Get out of the way of your prayers and pour out your soul before God.
He can hear you whenever you earnestly seek Him. He knows your heart, your frailties, and your strengths. He loves you and has not left you alone. If you feel He has hidden His face from you – tell Him. He loves the fact that you long for Him and desire to know Him, see Him, and experience Him at a deeper level. Get real in your prayers and God will transform your life through them.
Psalm 17:3 - Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.
Unfortunately, we sometimes have to wrestle with our thoughts and we are not exempt from sorrow of heart. Sometimes, for the moment, our enemies triumph over us and the pain of it seems open-ended.
“God,” we pray,” how long will this go on? I have nearly reached the end of my rope.”
And God either gives us more rope or extends our patience, or, in some cases, gives us a glimpse of an end in sight. Our defeats are temporal and transient. Our victory is eternal.
Our wrestling thoughts and deep sorrows do not overwhelm us for we have rest in Jesus. He is our comfort. The psalmist is not lecturing us about how to deal with eternal pain, doubt, and conflict; he is modeling it. He shows us the way out by living it out.
He prays – honestly and frankly to a God he trusts and knows. The author is identified as David, so we know that these are his sentiments, and this is his prayer. He was called a man after God’s own heart. Imagine that - God loves to hear from His children even when they are bringing Him their deepest conflicts. Pray.
Psalm 17:4 – As for the deeds of men-by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent.
This is the desperate plea of a man who knows that His only hope is in God. It may be true that our prayers will never be highly effective until we come to terms with this reality in our lives. The submission to God’s will is present in the mode of address, “O Lord, my God.”
The relationship is personal and vital. The prayer is for light. Eyes never see without light. David goes further – no light, no life.
“I cannot live without you,” he implies.
“If I cannot see from your perspective, I will simply die.”
He longs deeply for truth and for God. We cannot learn to pray like that from outside instruction; we begin with that part of our soul that knows it is weak and desperate and begin – and God teaches us to dig in and cry out to Him. Ask Him to be your teacher: “Lord, I don’t know where to begin with You, so begin with me where I am. Teach me to pray, O Lord, my God. Teach me to pray.”
Psalm 17:5 - My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
We need to get used to the fact that our enemy does not have our best interest at heart. Satan knows that we do not always believe this and capitalizes on our naiveté. He suggests thoughts and deeds that seem pleasant and alluring and, when we fall for the temptation, shouts with glee, “Ha! I’ve got him (or her)”
And then he throws a party to rejoice in our fall.
Enemies cannot be trusted. Evil cannot be trusted. If we flirt with sin, we will find ourselves entrapped. People may look at us and watch for an opportunity to ridicule us in our weakness because our stand for righteousness is so strong and open.
Do not be afraid of their laughter for our defeat is not final and their approval is not necessary. Only God is necessary for our lives. Affirm that in prayer today and notice with indifference the scorn of the wicked.
Psalm 17:6 – I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.
Yes! This is the resolution.
Whatever the trouble, doubt, or scorn of enemies, God’s love does not fail, and His salvation is sure.
From the same lips that cry out with impatient agony before God, the psalmist reaffirms his joyful faith in God. As a response to this joy, we are reminded to REJOICE.
Philippians 4:4 calls us to “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
And then, Paul emphatically repeats himself, “I will say it again: Rejoice!”
God, all that He is and all that He does, is enough for us. His salvation lifts us out of the doldrums of defeat and translates us into the kingdom of His dear Son.
There is not enough we can say about the wonder of this level of comfort and assurance. To rejoice in the midst of persecution is the greatest statement of defiance we can make in the face of evil. It declares, “You have no power over me!”
Take some time to rejoice today.
Psalm 17:7 - Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.
Go ahead and sing.
So, you think you have no voice. Very few people – whose larynxes have been removed for instance – have no voice. You most likely do – and the voice was made for singing. Everyone can sing. Everyone is called upon to sing to the Lord.
Worship through singing is not an optional exercise for trained soloists; it is a mandate for every believer. If you feel that your singing is offensive, learn to sing naturally without offense, but do not withhold your praise from God.
This business is intrinsic. God’s goodness brings a song to our hearts. If you have a song in your heart, simply release it. Do it without fanfare or expectation of praise. Do it without a motive to be accepted or admired – sing unto the Lord and unto Him only. Begin in your devotional time alone with Him. He has been good to you. Sing to Him.
Psalm 17:8 - Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings…
There are many reasons why this statement is so obviously true.
Denial is not a river in Egypt. Denying God will not make God go away. Whether or not you believe in God or confess Him as God will not change who He is and that He is the sole determiner of what is wrong or right, corrupt, or authentic, pure or vile.
The fool, according to the psalmist, is not a theoretical atheist or philosophical agnostic. It is not someone who is struggling with the existence of God on the intellectual level, but the man or woman who has, in his or her heart, determined to be a practical atheist – to live as if there were no God or as if His existence did not matter.
He is concerned with how this statement of the heart manifests itself in our lives. Now the question: Is there some area of your own life, where in your heart, you are declaring, “There is no God?”
Have you pushed Him to the side in your deliberations and decision-making? Have you excluded His influence in areas where there is conflict with your own desires and lusts? God calls that foolishness and identifies the results as corrupt and vile- rotten and degraded to the core. Do business with God today in this area of your life and allow Him to scrutinize you and bring you healing grace.
Psalm 17:9 – from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.
Well, what does He find in me?
That is the question I must answer. That is the question you must ask yourself. When he looks down upon me, does He find understanding and seeking?
Some do not understand and don’t know that they don’t understand. Some understand and have locked their understanding into a formula and have stopped seeking. Others know that they don’t understand but have acquiesced to a position of irrational hopelessness and have given up seeking.
None of these responses pleases God when He looks down upon the sons of men. There are others who both understand and seek. They understand enough to know that there is much that they do not understand and so they seek in those areas.
When God gives some understanding, they do not stop seeking and become self-satisfied with their limited knowledge, but they keep seeking – even more earnestly. That pleases God so very much. Examine your heart today using this criterion and keep seeking God – more and more.
Psalm 17:10 - They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance.
It is the universality of the fall and of sin that the psalmist is struggling with here. We were not designed to be corrupt. We were created in the image of God. But sin corrupts us to the very core. The rottenness of perverted intentions stains our lives beyond repair.
We cannot fix ourselves.
Our attempts at doing good to win some favor with God are also corrupt and drive us deeper into separation from God. Not even one person does good. That is amazing. But it is the reason why Jesus came and died, rose again, and returned to the Father to send His Spirit to indwell us.
We need the righteousness of Christ to be imparted and imputed to us. And we need His presence within us to work His goodness out through us.
These words are a reminder to long-term believers not to become proud, boastful, or self-righteous. If our salvation and acceptance by God depended upon our own goodness, we would be hopeless. But God sees us not looking down from above. He looks upon us directly through the face of His Son. Thank God today, as you pray, for His mercy.
Psalm 17:11 - They have tracked me down, they now surround me, with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.
We are flabbergasted at the inability of some to learn the futility of their ways. We are surrounded by masses who do not call upon the Lord and who devour believers in many ways The temptation is to bulge out our chests and lift our noses in pride proclaiming, “I’m glad I’m not like that”
That’s the wrong approach. The response of faith would be to look within with the searchlight of God’s truth and pray, “Lord, is there an area of coldness and rebellion in my heart where I am refusing to learn? Am I devouring the person you made me to be?”
What distinguishes and delivers the believer is that he or she calls upon the Lord.
Psalm 17:12 – They are like a lion hungry for prey, like a great lion crouching in cover.
Sooner or later, even the wicked come to their senses, sometimes too late, and realize that God is present in the company of the righteous. That realization brings dread unless the message of God’s love and forgiveness intervenes.
Some will fight it. Others will flee from it.
But there will be some who, out of the fear and dread of judgment, will come into the flow of grace through repentance and faith.
The plight of the oppressor is far worse than that of the oppressed. Therefore, we must pray for sinners to come to a knowledge of truth and live out the credibility of the gospel so that we never bring discredit to Name of Jesus. Pray today for someone who is overwhelmed with dread and examine your own life as well.
Psalm 17:13 – Rise up, O Lord, confront them, bring them down; rescue me from the wicked by your sword.
The complaint of the poor man is often that, as hard as he tries, he just can’t get ahead. Something or someone is always thwarting and frustrating his efforts. So, it is with anyone who tries to “get ahead” spiritually on the clout of his or her own spiritual reserves.
Our plans come to naught because they are wrought in the flesh and human effort. God is our refuge. That is a constant. In Him we have hope and a future. In Him, we are rich beyond our dreams. His resources cannot be depleted. Jesus said, “blessed are the poor.”
The poor in Christ know where the riches lie and rely upon God’s storehouse to supply all that they need. They trust all their plans to Him and rely on Him for every breath.
Psalm 17:14 - O Lord, by your hand save me from such men, from men of this world whose reward is in this life. You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children.
The psalmist prays for His people and, perhaps unwittingly, all who will be blessed by them.
Indeed, the salvation of Israel and all people has come out of Zion and David’s longing prayer is answered in Jesus Christ.
Today is a day of worship and praise. We pray for the day when Jesus comes again to set all things right. May the words of this psalm evoke deep praise and anticipatory joy in our hearts, and we lay ourselves bare before God.
What fortunes of spiritual treasure would you have Him restore for you today?
What is the longing for His presence in you that is most personal for you as you pray?
Psalm 17:15 - And I-in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.
The grand question introduces the next set of lessons from the psalms and sparks the imagination of all earnest seekers.
As believers in Christ, we have the answer in the gospel, but the very asking of the question is a matter of opening to God for all that He desires to teach us. Do not take truth for granted or treat it as if it were not ever new and renewing.
Allow the question to move you to the next level of seeking as you go before the Father in prayer today.
O beautiful for patriot dream That sees beyond the years.
America is not a static entity. It is more of an evolving organism. Its DNA is encoded on on collective consciousness, but is not stable. It is subject to the whims and wished of each generation and that generation's level of investment and understanding of America's principles.
And what are those principles?
In many ways, they are the natural next steps of the Enlightenment mixed with elements of Jewish tradition, Christian Humanism, the Protestant Reformation, frontier individualism, European exceptionalism, and the tenacious thinking of of an elite class of scholars, farmers, lawyers, and clergy who actually sat down around tables and through correspondence, developed a philosophical rationale for a new system of government that reflected their emerging values.
The things they wanted for themselves, many of them, in theory, believed should belong to all.
They envisioned a classless society, but could not come to agreement about that because the states were so heavily invested in another modern and evil institution of chattel slavery. Because of that dependence, outdated notions that male landowners made better "governors of the body politic," and their own intellectual elitism, they did not have the faith, courage, or will to enfranchise all into the American promise.
But they laid the philosophical foundation for universal enfranchisement.
They created a foundation for those universal rights to evolve.
They built a constitution that Jefferson believed should be revisited from time to time. It was a patchwork of compromises with a surprising unity of thought. It was built with a tension between representative and democratic rule with democratic values at the core.
It was a system where the tug-of-war between localized and central powers was anticipated.
The American experiment seemed, at the time, to require a bloody revolution. Such a revolution expedited a transition that would eventually be replicated, sometimes without war, in other nations on most if not all continents.
Whether through war, résistance, or persistence, the urge for humanity to be free, self-determining, just and cooperative in a fair and just government of the people seems to stir a common theme in the hearts of citizens.
Yet, it must evolve, expand, and include more and more of those who have been excluded explicitly or implicitly.
To summarize the poetic words and sentiments of Langston Hughes, America has not been America for everyone, but it can be.
That requires every generation to exercise its citizenship and influence, to be informed, and to be philosophically reflective. People who may not be able to define political science must, nevertheless, be engaged in it.
To be an American in the fullest sense requires a plurality of the population who reads history in a larger context.
To be an American requires a larger worldview of the community of nations.
It demands, at its core, what President Carter placed at the center of his presidency, a passion for human rights for all.
I believe that the preservation and realization of the American dream requires constantly looking for ways to do things better and make the dream available for more and more around the world.
Frederick Douglas once explained why he could not afford the luxury of celebrating the Fourth of July. Yet, know one of his generation did more to work within the system to make its promise a reality.
I have love problem with sentimentality, but their comes a time when the work of democracy in a republican system demands more than warm fuzzy feelings. It requires engagement and commitment to make it work.
It requires vigilance to insure that the core values that were not fully realized are moved advanced and developed. It requires thinking and acting, holding the line and moving the line when necessary. It requires challenging authority and laws while upholding laws for all.
It always requires holding our leaders accountable as well as a willingness to step into leadership when the mantle falls upon us.
America is not a cultural identity. it is not a common language. It is not a common ethnic heritage. It is not just a place. It is not a stationary set of policies.
It is not even one religion, not even a civil religion, which is a poor excuse for real religion. Those of us who believe in God, see God as the source of the principles that provide the foundation of creation and revelation for our big idea, but that foundation is wide enough for all people to stand upon it.
And people of faith give God credit for that kind of plurality as well.
America is an emerging idea based upon a philosophy of human dignity, freedom, and a desire for common good.
We lose that, and we lose America.
We lose that, and no flags, symbols, or songs can hold us together.
Happy birthday, U.S.A., a grand experiment in opportunity, welcoming, growing, and working out lots of kinks that create dissonance between what we aspire to be and what we are.
The key is in the becoming.
We are not static. We have had some wars.
Our wars have not defined us, but have, at times, refined us.
We have had disagreements, inconsistencies, and contradictions, but we have an essentially righteous philosophy that has been articulated and is waiting to be fully applied.
The core structure is laid so that we can work these things out.
We are a community of communities.
We are not perfect, but we are capable of fixing our imperfections.
We are diverse.
We are changing.
We are free.
We thank our thinkers and our protectors, our builders and our critics today. We join hands and sing of our common love. Let us be one people.
Luke 10:3 – Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves.
The costly commission to follow Jesus and to go forth as His ambassadors is so controversial as to appear adversarial. Jesus warns us to expect hostility and opposition. He does not say this to discourage us, but to encourage us. He does not intend to frighten us away, but to have us brace ourselves in the embrace of His grace and power.
“Go your ways,” He says, knowing that each of us has a path that is uniquely and wondrously ours. No two paths are exactly the same though they often intersect and frequently follow parallel courses. We may hesitate to go our ways because it is less risky to continue as we have been, sitting at the feet of Jesus in the cloistered environs of our religious retreats. But we must go. It is His commission.
“I send you,” He says and that gives us courage to go forth, knowing that we have been authorized and mandated we bear His Name and represent His kingdom. It gives us confidence and joy to know that we are not staggering through the darkness of meaningless humdrum. We have been sent.
“I send you forth as lambs,” He says. We are like baby sheep. We still need our shepherd. As we go from Him, we develop a new relationship with him. We discover that He has come along in a new way.
“Lo, I am with you always,” He assures us.
“… as lambs among wolves.” This is the scary part. It is dangerous out there to the extent that we really could lose some things along the way. And if the things we can potentially lose are dearer to us than the commission, we could lose everything. However, if we have relinquished our hold on the things of earth so that they “grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace,” then we have absolutely nothing to lose. We have died, as the scriptures say, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God.
Don’t be afraid of the wolves. Beware of them, but don’t let them stop you. Whatever you do, don’t miss the mission.
A Time for Rejoicing
And the seventy returned again with joy ... - Luke 1
Our people were full of energy and excitement. Though physically exhausted, they could not contain themselves after returning from a one-week mission to another country. What they had seen, heard, and done affirmed their callings and assured them that God's hand had been upon them. They had ventured forth into the unknown and had been touched by the Spirit in the process of touching others.
They returned again with joy.
Have you ever had this experience? Have you ever answered the call to get out of your "safe place" and move out on faith? Perhaps it was to cross the street and speak with a neighbor. Perhaps it was to help serve food to the needy or sit with an elderly person. You were apprehensive and unsure of yourself, but as you answered the call and moved out at the command of Christ, you sensed His presence with you and were exhilarated by His power flowing through you.
There is an energy that is created whenever we venture forth in obedience to Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit. Once we get the taste of personal ministry, evangelism, and proclamation of the good news, we want to do it more and more. We return to the place from which we have been sent with rejoicing and enthusiasm to report all that God has done through the likes of us.
If you have never ventured forth in ministry, now is the time to do so.
Another on the Same:
Luke 10:20 - Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven – Luke 10:20
The disciples on an early Kingdom mission had not only survived hostility but had thrived in the process. To their delight and surprise, God had come along with them and had wrought miracles of healing and deliverance. Even demons had been subjected to them and they were excited. It was at that moment that Jesus had to remind them of an important lesson. It is in our moments of intense religious exhilaration and enthusiasm that we must learn the same lesson.
It is great to enjoy the frills and thrills of practical discipleship and divine manifestations, but that kind of rejoicing pales in comparison to the joy of redemption. A stirring worship service inspires us to face a week of temptations and challenges, but it is not the main impetus to our spiritual success. Inclusion in God’s purpose is the greatest cause of rejoicing of all.
It is true that spirits are subject to the believer as he or she prays in the name and authority of Jesus Christ. It is a reality that when the Holy Spirit chooses to work through us, He can leave us as breathless as a roller coaster ride – and more so. All of this is true, but it is not our cause for real rejoicing.
We rejoice, no matter what is happening around us, that God has inscribed our names on the rolls of Heaven. No earthly joy and no spiritual fulfillment come close to the felicitous flame that glows in the heart of a redeemed soul. In the darkest night, it burns bright and warms the heart of the child of God.
It is why we rejoice now and rejoice evermore. Our names are written in heaven.
1 O God of love, O King of peace, Make wars throughout the world to cease; Our greed and violent ways restrain. Give peace, O God, give peace again.
2 Remember, Lord, your works of old, The wonders that your people told; Remember not our sins' deep stain. Give peace, O God, give peace again.
3 Whom shall we trust but you, O Lord? Where rest but on your faithful word? None ever called on you in vain. Give peace, O God, give peace again.
4 Where saints and angels dwell above All hearts are joined in holy love; Oh, bind us in that heav'nly chain. Give peace, O God, give peace again.