Come (May 31, 2013)

…Opening To…

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me save that thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping thy presence my light (Ancient Irish Hymn)

…Listening In…

Come, let us sing to the LORD; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. (Psalm 95:1; context)

…Filling Up…

Today is the final day of the Guitar Case series and the last day of Devo180 before the summer hiatus. Appropriately, we are finishing it with a verse of praise. (Also, as a bonus, you can click here to see a picture of the guitar case in question. You’ll notice that I never finished the project and now I don’t really use this guitar much anymore. So I guess it is finished!)

Today’s verse begins one of the numerous psalms of praise found in the book of Psalms. We’ve talked a lot about the psalms of lament, so much so that you might have forgotten that those aren’t the only ones in the book. But there are – and psalms of praise are another sizable group.

Psalm 95 is a psalm of invitation, and that’s what makes it so special. Notice that it doesn’t start with “Sing to the LORD about such-and-such” as other psalms do. Rather, it begins with a wonderful word: “Come.” This is a special word in the lives of the people who knew Jesus well; he invited many of them with a similar statement: “Come and see.” He says, “Come unto me, all you who bear heavy burdens.” And this is a special word in our lives:

“Why don’t you come and hang out with us?”

“Is Mommy coming home soon?”

“Come on, (fill in local sports team here)!”

The word “come” is so special because it signals an invitation, a welcome, an opening to hospitality and new relationship. No wonder then, that this psalm is one of praise! “Let us sing to the LORD,” it continues. “Let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.” I can think of no better invitation to offer than one that brings new people into the joy of singing to the LORD.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the rock of my salvation and the joy of my song. Help me to open myself up to new relationships and accept invitations from those who invite me into their lives. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, but I take with me your word, which settles deep in my soul and speaks life into my being.

Sacrifice of Thanksgiving (May 27, 2013)

…Opening To…

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me save that thou art
Thou my best thought by day or by night
Waking or sleeping thy presence my light (Ancient Irish Hymn)

…Listening In…

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and make good your vows to the Most High. (Psalm 50:14; context)

…Filling Up…

There are fourteen verses written on my old guitar case, which means we have five to go. Today’s verse is one of the verses that we use in the Episcopal Church for something called the “Offertory Sentence” (which is what we read right before bringing up the bread and the wine to be blessed). One day during college, I finally heard this verse in the midst of its natural habitat – the rest of Psalm 50 – and hearing it there completely changed my understanding of it.

Psalm 50 is about God indicting the people of Israel for simply going through the motions of worship and the practice of the law, but not letting those motions and practices invade their hearts and change them into better followers of God. By the last third of the psalm, God gives evidence of all the ways the people have strayed, which proves how empty their animal sacrifices have been.

I don’t want those animal sacrifices, God says. I don’t need to be fed. Those animals are mine anyway. What I want is the sacrifice of your thanksgiving. These are the key words of the psalm. At first glance, they don’t make much sense really. How is giving thanks a sacrifice? Or perhaps a better question is this: what are we sacrificing when we give thanks? I’m glad you asked!

Every time we thank God for something – an ability, an event, another person, ourselves – we are acknowledging that God is the shaper of that gift. God is the force behind and beneath and within that gift. This acknowledgement is the first step in removing from ourselves the delusion that we are somehow responsible for our own gifts and relocating them to their proper source, which is God. So, in the end, we are sacrificing our pride, which is the presumption that our gifts and abilities come from ourselves rather than God.

When all is said and done, the act of giving thanks is part of the practice of humility. And humility involves the sacrifice of all the delusions and presumptions that stoke our self-importance, our vanity, and our pride. When we give thanks, we properly attribute our giftedness to God’s movement, and then we find that movement swelling up from deep within us, propelling us to serve.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you invite me to locate my gifts in you. Help me to let go of my pride and find your presence within me that animates all my gifts. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, but I take with me your word, which settles deep in my soul and speaks life into my being.

Into Your Hands (May 24, 2013)

…Opening To…

We limit not the truth of God to our poor reach of mind,
To notions of our day and place, crude, partial, and confined;
No, let a new and better hope within our hearts be stirred;
The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word. (George Rawson)

…Listening In…

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit; for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth. (Psalm 31:5: context)

…Filling Up…

A verse from Psalm 31 comes next on my guitar case. It might be classified as one of those psalms of lament that I keep talking about on devotiONEighty. But Psalm 31 varies from classic lament psalms in one specific way: rather than moving from sorrow to timid statement of faith to the desire but not the ability to praise (which is the standard format), Psalm 31 is more of a roller coaster ride. It begins with a statement of faith: “In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge…” Then the middle of the psalm sinks into lament: “Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly.” Then it rises once again, finally concluding with these words: “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD.”

I’m so glad that the psalmist put such a roller coaster ride into words. The poetry of this psalm speaks deeply to those who grieve, giving them both the permission to feel sorrow and the expectation to find comfort. And while it falls just five verses into the twenty-four verse poem, the verse above forms the centerpiece of the psalm. Notice the way the verb tenses work across the sentence. In the first half of the verse, we find a present tense action verb, rendered above as “commend.” In the second half, we find a present perfect action verb, rendered above as “have redeemed.” In English, this means that God accomplished the redemption at some unspecified time before the writer commends his or her spirit to God. I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but I’m pretty sure the verbs work in a similar way in the original language.

While studying verb tenses might not get your blood flowing, the progression this verse evokes is incredibly important for our faith in God. I would be utterly incapable of commending my spirit to God if God had not already initiated some sort of relationship with me (in this case, in the form of redemption). This commendation of spirit is the very action that fuels the rest of the roller coaster psalm: there are ups and downs, but the entire varied experience of the psalmist exists within the palm of God’s hand. And in that, I find comfort.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are holding me in the palm of your hand. Help me to feel the support of that hand, a solid and holy ground for my feet. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, grateful for the opportunity to reflect on your word and looking forward to discovering its impact on my life.

Clothed me with Joy (May 22, 2013)

…Opening To…

We limit not the truth of God to our poor reach of mind,
To notions of our day and place, crude, partial, and confined;
No, let a new and better hope within our hearts be stirred;
The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word. (George Rawson)

…Listening In…

You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. (Psalm 30:12; context)

…Filling Up…

This seventh verse from my old guitar case has long been my favorite verse in the entire Psalter (that’s the fancy word for the book of Psalms). I have no idea how it came to my attention, but I’m glad it did because every once in a while it pops into my head and I sing it to myself for hours.

I just love how the psalmist uses the language to show the 180-degree turn that has happened because God showed up (or more likely because the psalmist realized that God was there all along). Earlier in the psalm, the writer says, “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.” This nightlong weeping turns into dancing when the psalmist notices what God is doing in his or her life.

Likewise, the psalmist lets God remove the sackcloth – that is, the garment of mourning – and figuratively clothe the writer with joy. Think about that. What does it mean to be “clothed with joy?” We wear clothes on the outside of our bodies. They are often the first things people notice about us. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the first thing others saw when they look at us is joy. What a first impression. This is the gift that God promises the psalmist in Psalm 30—that even though there is cause to weep, there is also cause to find great joy. And not only to find joy, but to wear it on your skin for all to see.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the source of my joy and the grace behind my dance. Help me to wear that joy outwardly so that others can see and feel it and find joy themselves. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, grateful for the opportunity to reflect on your word and looking forward to discovering its impact on my life.

I Will Praise (May 16, 2013)

…Opening To…

Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, can have as much…power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves. (Frederick Buechner)

…Listening In…

I will praise the Name of God in song; I will proclaim his greatness with thanksgiving. (Psalm 69:32; context)

…Filling Up…

The third verse down the neck of my guitar case comes from a special type of psalm called a “psalm of lament.” In this category of psalm, the writer bewails a tragedy (or two or three or four) that has befallen. The writer goes on to wonder if God is anywhere nearby or if God is going to help out because it sure seems that God has cut and run.

Now, you think: “Gee, that verse above does sound very much like a lamentation. Are you sure you got the citation right, Adam?” Good observation. Yes, the citation is correct. And yes, this verse doesn’t sound much like the thirty plus verses that come before it. Indeed, the first four verses of the psalm read, “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.”

This is one grief-stricken psalmist. How could the writer get from looking for God to praising God in song? Good question. Right here is where the future tense comes in. Notice that the psalmist says, “I will praise… I will proclaim…” The psalmist is mired in grief, blinded by sorrow. This writer feels abandoned and on the verge of despair. At the moment of penning this psalm, the writer cannot praise God or proclaim God’s greatness.

But even in this deepest lamentation, there is a glimmer of hope, and that glimmer is captured in the future tense. Someday – maybe not tomorrow or next week or next year – but someday, the psalmist will once again praise the name of God again. Psalms of lamentation give us an example to follow when we are in the midst of grief. They give us permission to feel the feelings of loss and sorrow and abandonment. But they also give us the hope that praising and singing and thanksgiving will come again in time.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you never abandon me, even when I cannot feel your presence. Help me when I am on the verge of despair to hold on to the sliver of hope that is a future full of your presence. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, with your words on my lips and your joy in my heart, ready to share both with all I meet.

Teach Me Discernment (May 15, 2013)

…Opening To…

Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, can have as much…power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves. (Frederick Buechner)

…Listening In…

O Lord, you have dealt graciously with your servant, according to your word. Teach me discernment and knowledge, for I have believed in your commandments. (Psalm 119:65-66; context)

…Filling Up…

The second verse from the top of the guitar case comes from the longest psalm in the book. In fact, the verses quoted above are at the beginning of the second third of the psalm. There are over 100 verses after that! Anyway, I remember pasting these two verses to my guitar after I started the formal process of discernment for ordained ministry. This is probably why I was struck by the phrase “teach me discernment.”

Basically, the psalmist wants to learn how to learn. “Teach me discernment” could also read, “show me how to open my eyes so I can begin to see properly.” Or “show me how to work these legs of mine so I can start following your path.” When the psalmist asks God to teach discernment, the psalmist shows that he has discovered that he is at the very beginning of his journey, no matter that a third of the psalm is already through.

Even though I am now a priest (that is, I navigated the six year process from initial inquiry to ordination), I still need to ask God to teach me how to discern. Discernment happens when you cultivate an atmosphere of prayerful reflection. Within this atmosphere, the discerner asks God to be present in the act of noticing all the choices in front of him or her. In the end, discernment is all about seeing the whole field when you make a decision (sorry for that football metaphor; it sort of snuck in). Every quarterback (even Tom Brady and Peyton Manning) has a coach to help him see the field. And we do too. So my prayer is that we each ask God to teach us discernment.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you continue to teach me things every day of my life. Help me to be receptive to those lessons so that I can invite you into every decision I make and find a fuller life in you. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, with your words on my lips and your joy in my heart, ready to share both with all I meet.

My Old Guitar Case (May 13, 2013)

…Opening To…

Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, can have as much…power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves. (Frederick Buechner)

…Listening In…

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts. (Psalm 33:6; context)

…Filling Up…

I got my first guitar around Christmas of my senior year of high school. For the life of me, I can’t remember if it was a Christmas present or if I bought it with Christmas money. Either way, it was pretty cheap, and because it was pretty cheap, I felt comfortable storing it in a “gig bag.” Gig bags provide enough cushion against the odd bump or jostle, but they won’t protect an instrument from being squashed or simply dropped.

So when I got my second guitar a little over a year later, I splurged on a hard case. I knew I was in this guitar playing thing for the long haul, so a hard case seemed like a good investment. Also, the second guitar was much nicer than the first. (That, of course, didn’t make it great because the first one was really cheap.)

Just like when you start seeing the make of your new car all over the road, I began seeing hard guitar cases all over my college campus. Most of them were plastered with decals from bands and bumper stickers with clever puns on them. Each case said something about the owner: the constellations of stickers were collages of personal expression. I began thinking about the decals I wanted to stick to my new case, but I just couldn’t come up with any.

Then I got an idea. I bought some black construction paper, duct tape, and a silver Sharpie. And over the course of the next few years, I taped to my guitar case all of the verses from the Bible that grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let me go. I rarely use that guitar anymore, having been given a beautiful Taylor for my ordination to the priesthood (what a gift!!). But the old case still sits in my office, and everyone once in a while I go back and read those verses that meant something to me all those years ago.

I’d like to share them with you over the next couple of weeks. There are fourteen verses, so we’ll be done with the case at the end of this month. I invite you over the course of the month to make a collage of verses that grab you, whether from those taped to my guitar or those you read or hear during your week.

…Praying For…

Dear God, your word continues to speak life into my being. Help me to listen to your voice speaking to me through the words of scripture. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, with your words on my lips and your joy in my heart, ready to share both with all I meet.

The Fireplace’s Crackle (May 9, 2013)

…Opening To…

Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers…
How did it go?
How did it go? (Shel Silverstein, “Forgotten Language”)

…Listening In…

Your way, O God, is holy; who is so great a god as our God? You are the God who works wonders and have declared your power among the peoples. (Psalm 77:13-14; context)

…Filling Up…

Closely linked to Imagination is the expansive concept of Wonder. Wonder comes in two forms, and young children exhibit both. First, wonder happens when you are in awe of something. Wonder is the state of being of those engrossed in something bigger than themselves that they cannot explain. Neither do they desire to explain it. Rather, they stand in wonder, open to realities that exist on a larger scale than any one person, but also personally connected to the greater reality. In small children, this kind of wonder happens for all sorts of things – things that grown-ups consider mundane. The rain pattering a window, the dog’s fur, and the fireplace’s crackle each have the capacity to instill wonder in the young child who has never experienced these things before.

Second, wonder happens when the desire to explain creeps in, but the ability to explain does not exist. At this point, wonderers have a choice. They can ignore the inability to explain and begin to question anyway. These will always be unsatisfied by insufficient answers. Or they can continue wondering, they can offer imaginative suggestions that do not seek to answer, but rather seek to tunnel deeper into the object of the wonder.

Adults look for answers. Young children are happy exploring without needing such a goal at the end. Of course, each child comes to the age where the questioning begins and each question leads to the next. Accessing the time before that change can bring us closer to God, the source of all wonder.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you are the greatest reality in the universe. Help me to turn narrow questions into expansive statements of wonder and fill me with the expectation to be surprised. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, joyful that I have been in your presence for my whole existence, whether I remember or not.

You Care About Me Lord (May 3, 2013)

…Opening To…

Come, then, Lord my God, come and instruct my heart where and how to search for you, where and how to find you. Where shall I look for you, Lord? (St. Anselm)

…Listening In…

Lord, you have examined me. You know me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up. Even from far away, you comprehend my plans. You study my traveling and resting. You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways. There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord, that you don’t already know completely. You surround me—front and back. You put your hand on me. (Psalm 139:1-5; context)

…Filling Up…

God as Cosmic Creator, who “stretches out the heavens like a curtain,” did not need a reason to speak creation into being. I might need a reason to build a bookcase or compose a letter, but God doesn’t need to share my motivations. If God did not need a reason to create, why would that same creator need a reason to care about us insignificant grasshoppers? God’s very greatness subsumes the “Why” question into God’s eternal being and renders it irrelevant. With the “Why” expunged, the gut-twinging question becomes a glorious statement of faith: “You care about me, Lord.”

You care about me, Lord. When I finally realize this, I notice that God as Intimate Companion has been whispering these words in my ear the whole time. Then I realize that God’s care for me (another word for which is grace) enables and enthuses me to care for others. The penchant for betrayal and disregard for others’ welfare, once unfairly plastered onto God’s being, now fall away as God continues to make me in God’s own image.

Our world is vast and full of questions. We are insignificant. We are messy. We are little things. But God’s vastness stretches into eternity. In staggering showers of grace-filled generosity, God both answers and removes the need to question. In those same showers falls the gift of sanctifying love, which removes our insignificance and scrubs us cleans. As we discern the Cosmic Creator and Intimate Companion in the same loving face of God, more words from the prophet Isaiah resound: “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

…Praying For…

Dear God, thank you for not abandoning me to questions that I will never fully comprehend. Thank you for answering me with the simple reassurance of your presence. Thank you for caring about me. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, comforted by the faith that your foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and hopeful that I might let your foolishness educate me.

Turning off the Autopilot (April 25, 2013)

…Opening To…

For life, with all it yields of joy and woe
And hope and fear,—believe the aged friend,—
Is just our chance o’ the prize of learning love. (Robert Browning, “A Death in the Desert”)

…Listening In…

And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places; you teach me wisdom in the most secret space… Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me. (Psalm 51:6, 10; context)

…Filling Up…

When we step out of the fuzzy background of our existence and embrace the eternal life of knowing God, we discover that there’s an internal switch that has been set in the wrong position. Each of us has within us a switch that controls the autopilot. Now, I’m not talking about the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates the parts of the body that we’re not fully aware of. We should probably leave that switch on. I’m talking about the autopilot that offers us the comfortable ability to sit back and read a magazine when we should be living.

When the autopilot is engaged, we travel day to day in the generally correct direction. The wings stay parallel to the ground. We don’t deviate course. We go about our daily lives because daily life is what happens when we wake up in the morning. (This might sound familiar because I talked about something similar on Tuesday.) But when you turn off the autopilot, you have to pay attention. You have to grip the yoke to keep the plane steady. You have to check course to make sure you going in the right direction. Disengaging the autopilot makes you engage life – both the life you are living as you go about your day and the life you are living within yourself. This interior life happens with equal parts mind, heart, soul, and spirit. It is in this internal space that you can check yourself to make sure you are living the kind of life God desires for you to live. When the autopilot is on, we don’t even realize we should make such checks.

Look to your internal fuselage: in what position is the autopilot switch. If it’s on, why not try flipping it and seeing what happens next?

…Praying For…

Dear God, the life that you offer elevates us from simple existence. Help me to take an active role in my own life, both the life that other people see and the life within that only you and I can see. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, ready to step into the spotlight of my life and shine in the brilliance of your presence.