Odds & Ends

It has been a tough and challenging time for humanity, hasn’t it? It’s hard to know what to say or where to begin. Today, I’ll refer you to the words of others who have helped me think about and process the hurt, pain, confusion, and sadness so many are feeling.

  • In Reaping the Whirlwind, Eric Crawford (WDRB) works through his feelings after being asked to comment on the recent shootings and protests in Louisville. Take your time with this one and pour over what he has to say. His writing is well worth it.
  • Esau McCaulley, a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and an assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, has written A Nation on Fire Needs the Flames of the Spirit for Christianity Today online. Based on his most recent sermon, this essay discusses how Pentecost can help the church find its voice during times of racial strife.
  • I’ve been blessed to be invited to join my best friend’s Sunday School class that meets over Zoom every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening from North Carolina. We are currently reading and discussing Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, which offers “a way to find spirituality in those times when we don’t have all the answers.” It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I highly recommend it.
  • And, let’s not forget (how could we, really) that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. If you’ve never looked at Kentucky’s COVID-19 website, I think you’ll be surprised by the wealth of information you can find there, including testing sites, numbers of cases by county, in-depth explanations of contact tracing, and what to expect if you’re contacted. Good stuff to know.

Last, but most definitely not least, I found the text of the prayer given by Rev. C.B. Atkins, pastor of First Baptist Church Bracktown in Lexington, during one of Governor Beshear’s recent press conferences. It was so moving to listen to Rev. Atkins’ words; I pray you find as much in the printed version:

“Let us pray together. Eternal God, the God of all people, because you are omniscient, there is nothing we can tell you that you don’t already know. So let me start by thanking you for clearing up busy schedules, for allowing us to pause to collectively acknowledge you today. We are aware that not all storms come to disrupt our life, some come to clear our path. Your ways are not our ways and your thoughts are not our thoughts. Isaiah reminds us that there is no searching of your understanding. So we did not come today to call you on the carpet to explain, we came to thank you for your power and willingness to sustain. 

“Worldwide COVID-19 has claimed 350,000 reported deaths, 100,000 in the United States, and 400 in Kentucky. These are staggering numbers of the arresting reality of this horrific pandemic. Still I refuse to be guilty either as a messenger of God or a man of color.

“I’m mentioning the racial pandemic that has been devastating a segment of your people in this country for over 400 years, emboldened now afresh by people in powerful positions in public places. It is not that the minority population has been silent, but rather that the majority population has been deaf. The high number of deaths from coronavirus has been needless, and the continuous deaths of innocent black men and women in this country is senseless.

“Frantic searches are underway in laboratories around the world for a vaccine for COVID-19. But even if one is discovered, and I pray it will be, but if we ignore the cure for that pandemic as we have ignored the cure for the racial pandemic, having done so for political, economic, and aristocratic expediency, then all efforts will ultimately be in vain.

“I pray God that you strip us of the false assurance that grows from pride in our powers and ignorance of our ignorance. After you strip us, then bathe us in compassion so our shared pain will generate a powerful passion that will eventuate in reaching a divine purpose.

“As dark as this day may be, I am assured you did not bring us this far to leave us now. Hatred, divisiveness, and even death are but finite happenings. We cling to an infinite hope. You’ve already given us the panacea for this and all pandemics. You have told us what is good and what you require, that is to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before our God. You have not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.

“If your people who are called by your name would humble themselves and pray, turn from our wicked ways and seek your face, you promise that you will hear from heaven, forgive our sins, and heal our land. Comfort us, oh God. Guide, guard, and govern us. God of all nations. Known by many names. Do it through Christ Jesus my Lord. Amen.”

-Reverend C. B. Atkins 5/28/2020

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14).  

James 1:2-11 (Part 1)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 1:2).

Let’s start with prayer:

Most Merciful Father, my soul finds rest and hope in you today. Truly you are my rock, my salvation, and my fortress of strength. I will not be shaken. My salvation and honor are dependent upon you – my mighty rock and refuge – and I will trust in you during good times, as well as uncertain, frightening times. Father, I pray that I may trust in your unfailing love at all times. I pray for others to reach out to you in trust from the very center of their hearts. Father, you are the refuge of all, in all times. Amen. (Based on Ps 62:5-8.)

As you’ve probably already guessed by today’s title, I’ve put together a multi-part discussion of James 1:2-11. While it’s relatively short, James makes several points in this piece of scripture, all of which come together to introduce one of his primary purposes for writing. So it pays to move slowly through the early verses of this first chapter. Today, we’ll begin this study series with verses 2-4. 

James, the brother of Christ, writes to those of the diaspora:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-6)

James begins his letter by addressing what will become a recurring theme throughout:  Christian maturity and completeness. It helps to look at the original Greek in order to see the full extent of how James builds this theme. He begins by telling his audience to consider trials that test their faith as “pure” joy. Joyfulness during hard times is hard enough to come by, but pure joy?

Well, the Greek word James uses (translated here as pure) is pasan, meaning complete, whole, perfect. The choice of this particular word emphasizes the type of joy one should have when placed in a situation that he or she knows will ultimately develop them into that same kind of Christian:  complete, whole, perfect.

To put it another way… The secular world sees heartache, devastation, hard times, and stops there. The Christian, however, sees the same bad news but has faith God will use the situation for good, someway, somehow. The timing of which, we cannot know and may not ever see in its fullness. Yet, we make the choice to persevere. Or, at least to try.

There have been days during the current pandemic when I’ve fallen into the trap of only seeing the bad news. It’s hard not to at times. An overwhelmed unemployment insurance program can’t keep up, and thousands of Kyians are struggling to support their families. Some still didn’t qualify even with expanded coverage and had no way to work when businesses shut down.

Almost 100,000 people have died. 100,000 human lives are gone. 100,000 families have grieved and are still grieving, mostly alone due to social distancing. Many days, I’ve found myself quoting King David from Psalm 13, “How long, Lord?  Will you forget us forever? How long will you hide your face from us? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

I panic. Before I know it, I’m like Peter when Jesus called him out of the boat to walk on the water. Peter was doing it! He was walking on water!… until his focus shifted away from Jesus and toward the strong winds. Peter was afraid. He felt like he was sinking. He was going to drown! “Lord, save me!”

Some days I’m Peter.

But just like David comes around at the end of Psalm 13, I finally… finally… refocus on Jesus and recommit: Lord, my God, I trust in your unfailing love. And, I persevere.


In Part 2, we’ll look at how James says developing perseverance moves us closer to our ultimate goal of being “mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” We’ll also explore the writings of John Wesley on this topic, which he referred to as “Christian Perfection,” one of his most misunderstood concepts.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14).  

Our Motivation

All my recent musings about works and faith has led me to think about the various ways individual faith is evidenced. (Trust me, I’ll get back to the Letter of James soon. I just can’t pass up a good digression!)

As Cory mentioned during our Bible Study, Paul speaks highly of Timothy and especially Epaphroditus who risked his life to maintain communication between Paul and the Philippian church. And James – who so often takes a beating over his stance on works – reminds readers that Abraham’s willingness to outwardly act on his faith serves as a testimony to the completeness of his faith.

Isaiah, on the other hand, describes a negative example of what faithful actions can become when we lose sight of why we act. In Isaiah’s vision, the Lord has lost all patience with the Israelites and their empty rituals. What good are animal sacrifices and incense burning when the only reason you do it is so God will bless you?

Doing those things that God loves isn’t about self-benefit. Rather, it’s about being so filled with holy love our “cup runneth over.” Sometimes, our cup overflowing looks like silent praise to God during private prayer. Sometimes, our cup overflows to hospitals, to those in poverty, or to friends undergoing hardship. Our cup can also overflow to those celebrating a marriage or welcoming a new child.

Our cups overflow in a myriad of ways, and in multiple directions. We spend a good deal of our time trying to identify the way that fits us and our particular talents the best. What’s my purpose? How do I reflect the love of Christ? The answer is different for everyone. For instance, I’m not going to sing, produce, and publish a Christian album because singing is definitely not my spiritual gift. (You’ll just have to take my word on that!) On the other hand, researching and writing a blog… that speaks a bit more to my strengths!

No matter what we choose to do, the point is to continually remind ourselves of our motivation for doing it. The Israelites forgot their primary motivation, and good things turned into empty things. I don’t read the Bible and write about it because I expect something in return.  I do it because God fills my cup so full… it overflows. God does that. I’m just guiding the overflow in this direction!

Think about how God fills your cup… and how you can best share the excess. And in all those things, to God be the glory.


Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated unto you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

Artistic Devotion

If you’re searching for a short devotion/meditation, I highly recommend taking a look at The Hallway Through the Sea, an online series written by Timothy Dalrymple, president and CEO of Christianity Today.

Described as “specifically for those struggling through the coronavirus pandemic,” the entries “address our sense of fear and isolation and also the ways we find beauty and truth and hope—and Christ himself—in the midst of suffering.”

Additionally, each message is paired with a work of art or music “to inspire and bring beauty through the darkness of this season.”

From a recent entry:

We become what we attend to. The more we devote our attention to worldly diversions, the more worldly and divided we become. The more we harness all of our attention into attentiveness to Jesus Christ, the more we are united with Christ and conformed to his image. In this season, countless anxieties and agitations clamor for our attention. Help us, O Lord, to discipline our powers of attention. Help us to lift our eyes away from our passing troubles and to fix our eyes on the one who was lifted up for us.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

LTP – Last Chapter

kalasToday marks the end of our study of Longing to Pray: How the Psalms Teach Us to Talk with God by Dr. J. Ellsworth Kalas. I feel very blessed to have been led to this in-depth look at prayer and the psalms while isolated due to COVID-19.  As my emotions have run the gamut during this time of heightened stress and unknowns, I have welcomed the reminder that I can (and should) bring all things — exuberance, gratitude, repentance, helplessness, and yes, even anger — to my Lord in complete candor.

I pray that you’ve been blessed in some way from your reading. I’ll continue sharing quotes, book recommendations, and “odds & ends” on this site. God is good, Jesus is King, and the Holy Spirit is at work — I’m always looking for and will try to share evidence of these truths.

In today’s entry, I’d like to simply list a few quotes from Dr. Kalas’s final chapter on anger. Once again, this was a chapter filled with “one-liners” (so to speak) that stopped me in my tracks. A few of these, I’m still lingering over. Longing to Pray will be a book I return to again and again because it carries a message I often need to hear:  God desires relationship with me, and prayer is the language he and I can use to communicate. It doesn’t need to be lofty, polished, or perfect. It just needs to be.

 

From Chapter 12 of Longing to Pray

(FYI:  I added bold print for emphasis in a few places where I thought to myself… “Wow! That’ll preach!” LOL!)

“Anger – because it is so often misused – has gotten a bad name. But anger is essential to human progress…. True, anger is a dangerous power, but less dangerous than supine acquiescence to evil” (100).

“I admit that sometimes the vigor of the psalmist’s anger is more than I can handle. But I’m not in his shoes, nor am I ‘wired up’ as he was…. So while I may be uneasy with the language the psalmist employs, I will try to give him the kind of latitude I might want in some other circumstance. More than that, I will ask that I come to possess the same commitment to justice and righteousness [that led to his anger]” (101-2).

“As readers [of Psalm 139], we see quickly that David feels he is on the side of God in his hating…. But any of us who observe human nature somewhat critically realize that it’s very easy to baptize our prejudices and judgments…. So while the psalmist prays for the victory of good and the destruction of evil, he never forgets his own capacity for evilSearch me, O God, and know my heart; . . . See if there is any wicked way in me” (105).

“You and I are miniature battlefields, microcosms of what is going on in the larger world around us. So how do we fight this evil? … We fight by education, by political action, by economic reform, by petitions, and by marching in the streets. And by prayer” (106).

“Prayer deals with matters of life, death, and eternity; it wrestles with hell. So of course it includes expressions of anger against all that violates the will and purposes of God…. I want a God who is angry with all that hurts and destroys, that cheapens and violates. I want to join with God in this battle. I need prayer to do so: prayer that is powerful enough to attack evil at its most subtle and hidden places, and prayer that is humble and perceptive enough to keep my anger in productive restraint” (107).

 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Holy God, you have called us to follow in the way of your risen Son, and to care for those who are our companions, not only with words of comfort, but with acts of love. Seeking to be true friends of all, we offer our prayers on behalf of the church and the world. Guide us in the path of discipleship, so that, as you have blessed us, we may be a blessing for others, bringing the promise of the kingdom near by our words and deeds. Amen. (Revised Common Lectionary)