End of the year, end of the psalms

The picture is from Psalm 148.

Look closely.

You can read it from right-hand to left.


H on the right is clear enough

…looks like an inukshuk…

two L s




Short version of YHWH, or, the LORD, in English Bibles.


In the monasteries, monks read all one hundred and fifty psalms, every thirty days.

Every psalm, every month.

They recited in worship, morning and evening.

Psalm 1 blesses the one who walks with the Lord.

In every situation — except one — the protagonist and the reader learn to lean on the Lord of Israel.

The last psalms on the surface are boringly same-same:

They praise the Lord of Israel.

That’s all.


Someone (or someones) put the psalms in an order.

The psalms lead the reader through tough experiences.

At the end of the library of life, the reader is to arrive at praise.

The editor(s) wound up the collection in praise.

It is as if they were saying:

Life is supposed to teach praise.

Education is supposed to result in praise.

If you find yourself further away from God after those experiences that oblige you to cry out for help, then you must be moving in the wrong direction.

One should love the Lord his God with all his heart, all his mind, all his strength.

Psalm 116: “I love the Lord, because he heard my cry.”

I’m not used to thinking about learning — rightly understood — as for praise.

But if I am more plugged into reality, then I am more plugged into the character of the God who made heaven and earth — right?

So, after my wife’s 42 nights in the hospital, here is a picture for praise:











Easter sunrise prayer for civic leaders

Moncton city hall, March 27th, 2016, 7am AST.

(With huge thanks to edgy “preachersmith,” and the Book of Common Prayer)

“We come to you in the name of the one who told us, ‘from everyone to who has been given much, much will be demanded; and, from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.’

For the Queen of Canada Elizabeth and the Governor General David

For Justin, the Prime Minister and the cabinet and all civil servants

For the secretary general of the United Nations and its assemblies and councils

For members of parliament and the senate

For judges of the Supreme Court of Canada

For premiers, cabinet members, and legislators of all provinces especially Brian and Cathy, Ernie, and Bruce*

For the mayor of Moncton George; of Dieppe, Yvon; of Riverview, Ann

By your help may they seek justice and truth, peace and concord.

Almighty God, who can bring good out of evil, and who can make even the wrath of humanity turn to your praise:

Thank you for arranging that a semblance of order remains in our shared life.

Praise be to you for not allowing disorder and anarchy.

We lift up our hearts, O Lord, for these who carry civic and political responsibilities.

Make them sensitive to the effects they have on the most vulnerable in society. Grant them the courage to gladly stand up for them without hesitation, apology, or compromise.

Surround them with good counsel, friends, and support, lest they find themselves surrounded by those who would do evil to them or through them.

Protect their hearts from callousness that can grow from being exposed to the friction and toil of gossip, lies, misrepresentations, misunderstanding, rumors.

Pour out on them a steady shower of your discernment and wisdom that they may be quick to forgive of things past and equipped to forge a foundation for better relationships between all in the future.

Still the tongues of all who heartlessly criticize, judge, and demean these servants of yours. Remind us to do to others as we would have them do to us.

Almighty God, kindle, we pray, in every heart the true love of peace.

Give space for the gospel to increase so that in tranquillity your dominion may increase

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.





Photo: Wikimedia

*Brian Gallant, Cathy Rogers, Ernie Steeves, Bruce Fitch – the premier of our province and Moncton area elected representatives especially close to those assembled for worship and prayer


Ordinary Names, Doing Extraordinary Work, and Persisting in Faith: Thoughts for a prayer conference

ImageJune 6, 2014
Listen to the start of the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth:
“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and Sosthenes, our brother, 2 to the church of God in Corinth, to those who have been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be God’s holy people, with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord as well as ours. 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I am continually thanking God about you, for the grace of God which you have been given in Christ Jesus; 5 in him you have been richly endowed in every kind of utterance and knowledge; 6 so firmly has witness to Christ taken root in you. 7 And so you are not lacking in any gift as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed; 8 he will continue to give you strength till the very end, so that you will be irreproachable on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 You can rely on God, who has called you to be partners with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Notice three things about this passage. 1) Ordinary names, 2) doing extraordinary work, and 3) persisting in faith.
1) The mere names are written more or less in the standard form used to start letters in the Roman empire period. We would say, Dear Friends.
Such an apparently mundane communication make this kind of writing seem hardly scripture-like. It is in koine common Greek. It has no high literary style. The words are not like a Plato or a Greek poet. Even Augustine had trouble reading this comparatively unburnished writing as scripture. Crude, not worthy, he thought before conversion. The words hardly seem like once and for all chosen words. Yet they are.
God used the language of the people to communicate. Koine Greek was the language of business and politics all around the Mediterranean basin, all over the Roman empire. How convenient.
God has become incarnated in human history. He condescended to meet us where we are. He is on our level. It looks ordinary. The supernatural is dressed  in jeans, as it were.
On top of that ordinariness, God has Paul include the name of his colleague, Sosthenes.
When I go to a meeting, one of my strategies for making sure the next meeting crew know I was there is to second a motion. Sometimes I even move one. Then no one can say I wasn t there or did nt do anything. My name is in the minutes.
I m not entirely sure why Sosthenes gets a mention. Other than to be like, another second witness to the truth. “In the mouths of two witnesses let everything be established.” That was the Jewish law. Or to underline that Paul is not an authority like the Lord Jesus; he is one of the apostles who were commissioned together and whose collective authority really comes from the one who called them. Sosthenes anyway is in the minutes. And I m glad he is. It is very humdrum. Very ordinary.
But Sosthenes is doing the business of God. Everyone for all time can see God used old Sosthenes to do work that would be looked back on as long as the present age goes on. He is just Sosthenes, but under the triune God he was given work to do that will last for ever. God works through the ordinary. He is not a high style God. He uses all kinds of people in all kinds of places. In fact high and low and middle you name it.
Your name as a praying person at this prayer conference is in the minutes. If not some official minutes or record of attendance, then the record of God. All agents of grace in their place. All pray-ers are Sosthenes-es. Recorded by God special to him.
2. Notice that a kind of blessing starts the letter, a kind of prayer. “Charis kai eirene.” This initial passage prefigures all the concerns of the letter. All the introductions to Paul’s letters, except maybe Ephesians, a circular letter, have this character. After you read the letter to the Corinth Christians you see why Paul started out the way he did. He is very curt with the Galatians, and you see why after you read the letter. Here in the first Corinthian letter you have a church which is way off base in its actual life. A man is living with his stepmother. There are issues with food from pagan temples. There is abuse of the Lord’s supper. They are tolerating people who downplay the resurrection. But: Paul commences by giving thanks to God for them.
If it were me, I m sure I would be less enthused. I would be thinking about all the hard work to get this outfit straight and it might not even take, my efforts might fail.
Paul knows this: the faith of these folks is the work of God, not any human effort. That believers exist in the middle of an idol-worshipping, sexually impure, port city in the Greek part of the Roman empire is a miracle. Each and every believer is a miracle. Remember  to buck him up evangelizing, Jesus appears to Paul and told him: I have many people in this city. These folks are Jesus’ people — even thought their life is not all it needs to be. Their lives need to match their confession of Christ. But they are on the way — in Paul’s optimistic take. The glass is half full. Paul keeps the big picture firmly in view. “I am delighted you belong to Jesus. I have not forgotten the occasion of your coming to faith in the first place and what a miracle it was. I have not forgotten the day you were baptised. I delight in you with the delight of the Lord himself.” We could all learn something for our church relationships from these few verses. So easily overlooked. So expressive of the gospel of Jesus Messiah the Lord of heaven and earth.
3. But notice thirdly, Paul does not neglect to urge them. Humanly he uses words to do God’s work. The Corinth Christians need to persist in doing good. If they hear his words and act, they will be displaying faith. Notice that “call on the name” in verse 2 is almost the same thing as their identity in the same sentence. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those who have been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be God’s holy people, with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” – relying on the supreme authority — which is Jesus — is a sign of worship and submission. To pray is part of very identity of God’s people. Conversely, those who do not call on Jesus are not showing reliance on him. They are relying on themselves or on gods who really do not have the authority to make that difference.
In verse 8 Paul writes, “He will give you strength.”
This is a prayer conference. It takes an effort to go out of town, one more year to this prayer conference. Perhaps there was some competing allegiance, some family event, sports event, golf event, dancing for the stars event,  that you made a lower priority. I thank God for you doing the work of God in praying for God’s work in Asia. God is at work in you both to will and to do his good work. You still hear his voice. Let us, as long as it is still day, encourage one another. The work will last forever. Not many causes can say that.
Ordinary names, doing extraordinary work, and persisting in faith!


Agony, and Confidence

Man and son at the Wailing Wall, remains of Second Temple, Jerusalem. Courtesy Robert Chroma by Creative Commons licence.

Man and son at the Wailing Wall, remains of Second Temple, Jerusalem. Courtesy Robert Chroma by Creative Commons licence.

Romans 9-11 is my nominee for The Most Difficult Passage in either Hebrew Bible or Greek Testament. Take a look at this opening.

This is the truth and I am speaking in Christ, without pretence, as my conscience testifies for me in the Holy Spirit; there is great sorrow and unremitting agony in my heart: I could pray that I myself might be accursed and cut off from Christ, if this could benefit the brothers who are my own flesh and blood. They are Israelites; it was they who were adopted as children, the glory was theirs and the covenants; to them were given the Law and the worship of God and the promises.

Paul loves his own people dearly. He are one! Jesus also is Jewish, of course. I struggle with the idea that the NT can be anti Jewish, or anti Semitic when racially the supposed culprits are exactly that. Do they hate themselves, then? How could they, in a majority Jewish culture or even in a confident diaspora?

Paul goes on to say what seems clear to me — regular enough reader of Augustine — that God has his own internal “election,” that is, his own internal choice, and if you are in it, you receive mercy. God gives mercy to whom he chooses. Simple. Too simple:

“So it is not a matter of what any person wants or what any person does, but only of God having mercy.Scripture says to Pharaoh: I raised you up for this reason, to display my power in you and to have my name talked of throughout the world.”

Kolakowski the philosopher has a book entitled, “God owes us nothing.” The book is about Pascal’s group of Augustinian Catholics (Jansenists) who said just that, God owes humanity nothing.

The point is that collectively humanity has no claim on God. Our first parents forfeited God’s kindness. His descendants all ratify that stance individually, without exception  — well, one exception, which is the God-man Jesus Christ. Those who belong to Christ regain the favor of God through the Beloved. Sounds good. But what to make of Pharaoh’s fatal appointed destiny?

Romans 9-11 has been discussed by far more able minds than mine. Let me say so up front. Barth the Swiss theologian has an interesting take. Calvin’s take is known at a folk level as reprehensible. Arminius, a Calvinistic Dutch theologian, could not stomach Calvin and came up with his semi-version, sort of God, sort of your human choice. But let’s bypass the polemic. Let’s go back to Augustine who had double predestination — in spades. Augustine said God chooses some for salvation and some for damnation. God elects, and God disposes! Never mind John Calvin versus Jacob Arminius, circa 1600s. From the beginning of the Western Christian tradition!

Note a deep mystery here. Scripture Old or New nowhere forces a choice between God or humanity making things happen. Humans do wrong and they act accountably.  They act against the light of nature. They murder, choose war, practice idolatry or adultery, go in for witchcraft or drug-taking. The choices are wrong. In some sense the choosers could have done other, and should have done other. God did not sin. He did not force sin. He may have allowed the situation to be set up: that is why Christians pray, Lead us not into temptation. If God puts me in a hard place I may fail, and God have mercy and help me. If I do sin, I did it. Not the Devil. Not God. Not my mom. Me. (Psalm 51)

Paul writing about his own race, not about individuals, concludes that God will surely have mercy at the end — see Romans 11. God promised mercy to Israel and he will surely deliver.

Within Israel, not all individuals of Israel are elect — some are his people, some are not. Being circumcised, or baptised, will not place you in or out by itself. God knows the individuals who are his (2Tim). He made them alive. He made them alert. He worked through their life circumstances to bring them to himself.

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay/Fast bound in chains and nature’s night/Thine eye diffused a quickening ray/I woke, the dungeon flamed with light/My chains fell off, my heart was free/I rose, went forth and followed thee.” (C. Wesley’s famous hymn, “And Can It Be.”)

Romans 9-11 reminded me of two things.

(1) Those who focus on the details of whether BC believers, who never heard, are in or out, are focussing in the wrong area. The big picture is that there are damned (Pharoah) and there are elect. The fzzzzy middle is not the place for focus; rather look at the massive ends of God’s people and non-Gods-people. As offensive as salvation of some not all is, the fact that the Son of God was predestined to die affirms the seriousness of the issue. I had a Book of Revelation moment as I read. I was renewed in my understanding of the seriousness of life and death and God’s amazing intervention.

(2) The second reminder is the urgency of prayer. God moves, and no one can stop his hand. God does not move, and nothing can stop our decline. “Our” can include apparent Christians, also our society, also the world. Prayer is the space God has made for changing world history. No accident that at the cracking of the seventh seal “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Next I saw seven trumpets being given to the seven angels who stand in the presence of God. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. A large quantity of incense was given to him to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that stood in front of the throne; and so from the angel’s hand the smoke of the incense went up in the presence of God and with it the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 8). The prayers of God’s people make a hinge of history. What an encouragement to be about God’s gracious work.

As a footnote, I had a great supper last month with a Serbian Orthodox nonbeliever who told me the difference between Serbs and Croats, that is, Slav Orthodox Christians and Slav Catholic Christians (same race, different theologies). The Orthodox say, Ah, don’t worry, Jesus took care of it. The Catholics say, We better stay clean. Jesus took care of it but we better do right. The Croats are more rigorous. Maybe the Orthodox are onto something; maybe they “get” the cosmic effects of the death of the Son of God. On the other hand, er, isn’t there supposed to be some life change if you really “get” it? The Bible looks for “fruit.” But the issue we did over supper is the issue we are talking about here. God chooses. God disposes. God hears prayer.


Rob Parsons and the prodigals

Rob is a lawyer, organization starter, and church leader in the UK. What he describes started a series of conference centre events at which 50,000 people came to pray for their very varied prodigals.

Rob Parsons and the prodigals


Prayer: Why Bother?

“Why Bother Praying?” is a new title from Paulist Press.

That stark question – by itself – raises interesting rock-bottom issues.

“Why bother” hints at a great reason to bypass prayer:

“Why bother, because what God will do, God will do”?

For a minute, put on the why-bother point of view:

  • The Christian God is the sovereign ruler of the universe.
  • He controls the atoms, the cells, the neutrons.
  • He knows how history will end, already, and knew it from (before) the beginning.
  • Jesus, after all, is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Revelation )

So: why pray?

Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera.

He even knows our prayers before we make them.

Why ask him? He already knows what you need. Why clog up communication with needless information?

And, prayers that are in line with the will of God are the only ones that are heard.

Translated: Ask him to do what he is going to do already, and he will do it.

Doesn’t that make praying seem pointless?

Why take time to pray?

The effect of any prayer is already included in the divine plan.

Wait a minute: If the effect of your prayer is already factored into the divine plan, then, suppose you did not pray.

Your non-prayer is part of the divine plan also.

Nobody prayed, so God did nothing!

Here is a confirmation of this line of thinking. Jesus went back to Nazareth, and he could not do much there, because the townspeople did not believe in him.

They did not have faith in him. Maybe they did not have much faith in their God, either, besides doubting Jesus’ credentials; maybe their turning away from God was radical. The account is not specific, perhaps because those who had faith in God were looking for his Messiah, like Simeon or Anna (Luke’s gospel).

Basic point: Your prayers in time make a difference for eternity.

We humans cannot know how God will use our prayer. The book says that the prayer of a righteous person makes a big difference.

The book assures us: God’s people can pray and change the course of history.

God hears. Passages even affirm that he “repented” of some promised judgment.

Looks like good reasons for not praying are theological reasons somehow understood in the wrong light:

  • The foreknowledge of God.
  • The nature of faith.
  • Trust in God as central to the Christian life.
  • God in time and beyond time, transcendent, and also immanent. Beyond us and with us.
  • Trusting God in disasters like Habakkuk’s catastrophe.
  • Believing that the Cross is God’s paradoxical decisive intervention in history.

Jesus prayed!

Why on earth did Jesus have to pray?

If Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, the fact that he prayed is as much mystery as one could imagine.

He even said that the Father knows some things not known by the Son, at least while on Earth. –More mystery.

Then again, Jesus is still praying, Hebrews tells us.

Prayer might be the most central aspect – the defining aspect – of the Christian life, the sign of one’s faith, humility, love, hope, compassion. Maybe.

I’m in Oxford where colleges were founded to pray for the souls of the wealthy departed.

Could one write about great ages of prayer? Great places of prayer?

I hear that Korea knows how to pray.

Could an age of prayer give way to an age of advance for the gospel?

Korea sends many missionaries. The country has changed dramatically. Are these changes from prayers?

“Jesus taught them that they should always pray and never give up.”