Category Archives: Psalms


I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.

This passage from Psalm 32 kept flashing before me as I watched this video of my granddaughter Arabelle leading a horse for the first time.

And more.

I see a horse for whom, at this moment, a bit and bridle seem to be a technicality. Arabelle isn’t having to exert force to control or direct Shuga. The horse is simply keen to her presence and movement. I believe this is what the psalm has in mind. I want to go to there. I want to be keen to the Divine presence and movements when it comes to Life, to Love, to God. How often I’m just a runaway horse stampeded by the press of life, panic in my eyes, nostrils flaring.

And then, to see myself in the horse (or in the horse’s rear), is to see God in Arabelle.

That was quite the startling image to me.

The majestic Divine, the pulsating center of all existence, the cosmic energy holding all things together, the consuming fire, seraphs and cherubim covering their faces, the foundations of the earth quaking before the God who smokes…

And then to see the Divine visage in the face of such a child, in the face of such innocence.arabelle_sugar_2

Perhaps this is why we must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

It simply isn’t an adult place.

It is space for wonder, a place to be enraptured.
The playfulness of God doesn’t make it into most theology texts. It’s not in any ancient catechism or confession of which I am aware. But perhaps all other divine attributes about which we might muse are but satellites in orbit around it.

There is little I won’t do for Arabelle. At least now. (Although I still won’t let her little fingers mess up my latest game of Bejeweled Blitz on my iPad. There are limits, people.)

But to see such playfulness at the very heart of God, at the very heart of reality. To see it at the center of the creation story in Genesis. To see it in the carefree face of Jesus as he went about doing good in his kingdom play, totally flaunting all the adult rules. It’s captivating, contagious. Like Shuga, I find myself instinctively drawn to watch the Child moving just before me, and to enter into Her rhythms at Her pace.

Perhaps this was the trouble with Adam and Eve in that garden.

They were created just a bit too old.


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Posted by on April 1, 2013 in musings, Nature of God, Psalms


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narrow paths

One more lesson from Ray Vander Laan’s faith lesson Walking with God in the Desert (see my previous post).

Vander Laan referred to the sheep paths along the hillside as the “straight paths” or the “paths of righteousness.”

I saw Jesus’ “narrow road” in his Sermon on the Mount.

"straight paths" on a Negev hillside

“straight paths” on a Negev hillside

This is a narrow path.

And the hillside is covered with them.

Vander Laan observes that these sheep paths or ruts have been worn into the hillside over countless years of sheep being led across it. All these parallel paths are cut into the hillside, each spaced with just enough room for sheep to feed above or below it as the shepherd leads them along it.

He didn’t make the point, but the video suddenly became 3D and leapt out at me right off the screen, no glasses required.

"my sheep hear my voice"

“my sheep hear my voice”

The sheep are not marching lock step, single file all along the same path with the shepherd out in front (and a master at arms bringing up the rear). Sort of the way I see Sunday School kids being led to and from the sanctuary forming (literally) one long single line. No. The shepherdess leads the sheep all in the same direction, but along parallel paths up and down the entire hillside. And there are “green pastures” enough for all.


How far you want to expand this metaphor is up to you.

How simple and clear cut is single file.

How easy to control.

How naturally inclined we are towards it.narrow path_2

But the sheep walk all over the hillside on different but parallel paths, each finding what it needs along the way, the tuft here and the tuft there, the one shepherdess walking before them all, the sound of Her voice the only beacon necessary, the only control called for.

Now there’s a picture to ponder a bit.

I’ll never see that “narrow road” in quite the same way…

narrow path

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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in musings, Psalms, Videos


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green pastures

I meant to write this six months ago.

Last year our Tuesday night group journeyed together through volume 12 of Ray Vander Laan’s That The World May Know video series. Love them all, but this was one of the better entries in the series: Walking With God in the Desert. Vander Laan takes us through the desert of the Negev in Israel exploring seven faith lessons of navigating the hard times, the desert experiences of life.

It’s worth watching, wherever you are coming from.


Green pastures.

That was the surprising epiphany for us all from week six of the journey.

the first image that came up when I binged "green pastures"

the first image that came up when I binged “green pastures”

What do you think of when you picture “green pastures” as in “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me to lie down in green pastures…”? If you’re like me, you immediately envision a boundless field of belly-deep alfalfa. So much green you could get lost in it. Kauai green. Yes, Kauai! Lush. Boundless. Ahhhh.

As Vander Laan observes, does that sound like your experience with God? with life?

Shepherds in Israel rarely lead their sheep to lie down in rich farmland.

They take them, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did, into the desert landscape of the Negev. In the Negev, green pasture is that tuft of grass, right over there. You see, on certain rocky, rugged hillsides, what moisture there is accumulates around rocks, seeps underneath and results in the occasional green sprout. From a distance, green pasture looks like a barren,

"green pastures" in the Negev

“green pastures” in the Negev

dead hillside. Think the Boise foothills at the height of summer’s heat. I’ll never forget the feeling when flying back from Kauai a few years ago, looking out that airplane window and seeing…brown. Everywhere. “Dear Lord,” I gasped audibly. “Everything is dead.”

Yeah. Green pastures are like that.

The first time Vander Laan saw sheep grazing on one of those Negev hillsides, he thought, “What are they doing? Are they rock-eating goats or what?”

But as the shepherd leads, she leads (in the video it’s two shepherdesses we observe) with her voice, walking in front, along a hillside with little tufts scattered all along the way. Each tuft a mouthful. And a mouthful is all that’s needed. In ten minutes there’ll be another

"green pasture." and that's a mouthful...

“green pasture.” and that’s a mouthful…

mouthful. Ten minutes after that, another. And if there isn’t, the shepherd is still there. She’ll lead the way to another tuft or two on another hillside.

One of Vander Laan’s desert companions once observed, “You westerners have it all wrong (now there’s an epiphany). You deal with tomorrow’s problems on today’s pasture. Can you handle what life will throw at you in the next ten minutes? You don’t know. But you have a mouthful right now. And you’re with the shepherd.”

And that’s enough.

green pastures_4


Posted by on March 5, 2013 in Faith, musings, Psalms, Videos


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zombified…or waiting for the turn

God, you’re my last chance of the day.
    I spend the night on my knees before you.
Put me on your salvation agenda;
    take notes on the trouble I’m in.
I’ve had my fill of trouble;
    I’m camped on the edge of hell.


On every level. Emotional, physical, spiritual.

Last Saturday under a heavy chemo cloud that was simply unrelenting and suffocating, I sat out on my patio, arms extended, saying, “Take me! Come on! I’m ready! Are you enjoying this?”

Where is that fiery chariot with the divine whirlwind in its wake when you need it?

I thrust my arms upward repeatedly. Repeated jumpstarts accomplishing nothing.

Crickets chirp.

Zombified and ready to be done with it. Desperate for a turn, but that turn remaining frustratingly over the horizon, out of grasp, unattainable. No relief. No let up. “Mike, you are handling all this with such grace; you are such an inspiration.” Such encouragement turns to mockery at such times. If you could only see me now.

“I hate my life.”

I’m written off as a lost cause,
    one more statistic, a hopeless case.
Abandoned as already dead,
    one more body in a stack of corpses,
And not so much as a gravestone—
    I’m a black hole in oblivion.
You’ve dropped me into a bottomless pit,
    sunk me in a pitch-black abyss.

Twenty-four hours later it was as if a switch had turned.

Life moves in again like a flood.

Oh yeah, that’s what life feels like.

And I find myself saying, “I love my life. I love my wife. Thank you for not listening to me.”

Amazing the difference twenty-four hours can make in chemoland or any land, for that matter.

My most poignant reminder yet.

Wait for the turn.

When moving into the grimy and gritty paths of significant disruption and disorientation as Brueggeman describes and the Psalms bear witness to, it’s an agonizingly dark abyss. Time seems to literally stand still, to hang limply in the air hovering over your misery, amplifying, accentuating it. There is no light, no praise, no stiff upper lip. It’s Psalm 88 territory.

I’m battered senseless by your rage,
    relentlessly pounded by your waves of anger.
You turned my friends against me,
    made me horrible to them.
I’m caught in a maze and can’t find my way out,
    blinded by tears of pain and frustration.

There is no glimmer of hope expressed in Psalm 88. No countering silver lining. No other hand. No hymnlike comfort. No, “If the skies above you are grey, you are feeling so blue; if your cares and burdens seem great, all the whole day through; there’s a silver lining that shines in the heavenly land; look by faith and see it my friend, trust in his promises grand. Sing and be happy, press on to the goal, trust him who leads you he will heal your soul; let all be faithful, look to him and pray; lift your voice and praise him in song, sing and be happy today.”


I want to kill that hymnist.

At least I do in the land of Psalm 88. In the land before the turn.

I call to you, God; all day I call.
    I wring my hands, I plead for help.
Are the dead a live audience for your miracles?
    Do ghosts ever join the choirs that praise you?
Does your love make any difference in a graveyard?
    Is your faithful presence noticed in the corridors of hell?
Are your marvelous wonders ever seen in the dark,
    your righteous ways noticed in the Land of No Memory?

I’m standing my ground, God, shouting for help,
    at my prayers every morning, on my knees each daybreak.
Why, God, do you turn a deaf ear?
    Why do you make yourself scarce?

Where are the songs of lament, of crisis, of darkness and despair in our enlightened Christian liturgies? If we mention darkness, we pass it over quickly, a quick tip of the hat, a bare glance before recommencing our triumphal choruses of flowery faith and hope and all things bright and beautiful. And in so doing we gut the suffering and short circuit true hope for that matter. Hope is always born in the valley of genuinely felt and anguished despair. Only in such places does it become more than a tenent of faith, a worshipful wish, a lark of shallow optimism that only cuts and isolates the anguished heart and makes it search for the appropriate mask of cheerful courage, of bucking up as we reach for those bootstraps – or reach for the means of actually ending it all.

For as long as I remember I’ve been hurting;
    I’ve taken the worst you can hand out, and I’ve had it.
Your wildfire anger has blazed through my life;
    I’m bleeding, black-and-blue.
You’ve attacked me fiercely from every side,
    raining down blows till I’m nearly dead.
You made lover and neighbor alike dump me;
    the only friend I have left is Darkness.

Yep. That’s how Psalm 88 ends. Darkness. Nothing. Nada. Nil.

Such pain must be validated, not soothed; borne, not massaged. Only then can we truly help others, help ourselves.

To wait for the turn…


Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Psalms, Suffering


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the three-beat rhythm of life

This is the intro I wrote for an upcoming week’s devotions in the Psalms. How essential to recognize and learn to move with the three beat rhythm of life – orientation | disorientation, frustration, disruption | new orientation. And there the Psalms are to be climbing companions through them.

I share this to set up some musings on what I will call “waiting for the turn.” Wait for it…

The Psalms are a strange literature to study.    ~ Walter Brueggemann 

They are more than just pretty songs.

The book of Psalms is something of an inspired prayer/song book that reflects the raw and real rhythms of human life “under the sun.” Wherever you are in life, there is a Psalm that speaks to and of that life setting.

We tend to be very selective in our reading and use of Psalms. We like the pretty and easy on the eyes images of Psalm 23 that greet us like a warm Thomas Kinkade painting. We tend to be less enthusiastic about some of the darker, downer Psalms that speak directly to issues of God abandonment, miserable circumstances from which there appears no way out or outright anger and rage that calls curses down on enemies and wishes to see their children’s brains bashed out against the rocks.

Not material for uplifting worship songs.

But this is why Psalms is so enduringly impactful in the worshipping and devotional lives of God followers across all boundaries of time, space, culture and religion. They give us words for where we live, what we see, how we feel. They reveal that an appropriate God response is not prettied up pious sounding expressions, but real, earthy, human ones.

One of the better guides to the Psalms is a theological commentary on the Psalms by the eminent Hebrew scholar Walter Brueggemann (The Message of the Psalms). Brueggemann observes: “Much Christian piety and spirituality is romantic and unreal in its positiveness. As children of the Enlightenment, we have censored and selected around the voice of darkness and disorientation, seeking to go from strength to strength, from victory to victory. But such a way not only ignores the Psalms; it is a lie in terms of our experience…The Jewish reality of exile, the Christian confession of crucifixion and cross, the honest recognition that there is an untamed darkness in our life that must be embraced – all of that is fundamental to the gift of new life.”

The Psalms are profoundly subsersive of the dominant culture, which wants to deny and cover over the darkness we are called to enter. Personally we shun negativity. Publicly we deny the failure of our attempts to exercise control.

To reflect upon and use the Psalms as climbing companions through life’s rhythms is not escaping from or numbing ourselves to those rhythms we find unpleasant, but to fully embrace and experience them from a God perspective.

Brueggemann summarizes the life rhythms we all experience into three groups – and these groupings ultimately serve as a very valuable way to group and understand the Psalms:

  • Orientation. These are satisfied seasons of well-being that evoke gratitude for God’s presence and blessing. Life is good, the world is my oyster, God is in heaven on his throne. There is a predominant sense of “Ahhhhhhh.” Psalms of orientation celebrate “the joy, delight, goodness, coherence, and reliability of God, God’s creation, God’s governing law.”
  • Disorientation. These are those anguished seasons of hurt, alienation, suffering and death. Life sucks. The world is a hostile, cold place. God is nowhere. Psalms of disorientation match such seasons in ragged and raw expressions, culminating in powerful laments that provide the abrasiveness needed for such hard, dark stretches of our journey.
  • New Orientation. This is the suprising turn that life can suddenly take as we find ourselves out of the pit, overwhelmed with new gifts of God, a new experience of grace, of joy piercing through despair. Psalms of new orientation speak boldly of this new gift of God, a fresh infusion and intrustion of divine working that makes all things new, that lifts us up and puts our feet in new high places offering vistas from which all looks different, vibrant, alive.

This week we dip into the Psalms for six days with an invitation to experience Psalms speaking to each of these seasons. A psalm a day. Two days of orientation, two of disorientaton, two of new orientation. Things going great this week? Things falling apart? Things finally coming back together? Wherever you are standing at this moment in your life, you will encounter a few Psalms this week that will speak to it.

There won’t be study questions accompany the Psalms each day. No sermon notes. No small group guide. You can make your small group time a time to share how you encountered God in the Psalms. No, all you have this week is the invitation to read the Psalm of the day aloud. To read it prayerfully, meditatively. To let the Psalm take hold of you. To allow it to lead you into prayer and worship, or to experience the freedom of crying your eyes out – either in pain or in unspeakable joy.

Experience some Psalms. Experience life. Experience God.

Psalm readings:

Orientation –  145, 104, 8, 19, and the mother of all orientation psalms: 119

Disorientation – 13, 86, 35, 74, 79, 137 and the most depressing psalm ever (I dare you to make a song of this for a Sunday morning worship set, O worship leader gurus): 88

New Orientation: 30, 40, 138, 34, 65, 96

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Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Old Testament, Psalms


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