Despair and Hopelessness


Jer. 22:13-23; Rom. 8:12-27; John 6:41-51

Psalm 69 is one of those psalms that is often overlooked.  It is long.  Perhaps a neglected psalm because it is so long.  I also dwells on desolation and some see it as a downer.

The psalmist feels like he is drowning.  Woven in also is having a central trust in God, which is front and center in this psalm.  “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck…I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.

As if things couldn’t be worse, this drowning person also has a parched throat.  Salt water! Voice dried up – unable to cry for help.  As Psalm 69 plays out, it is easy to see the desolation and despair.  The longing for help is profound. The wonder and amazement of this psalm is that never once does the psalmist let go of the hope that God saves.  The abundant love of God is appealed to.

The world has come crashing in.  The world is consuming.  Insults and shame and dishonor from “my foes” also make themselves known.  The psalmist, through a confession of sin, and through the honest purging of his own venting, arrives at his vengeance and anger: “Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.”

Despite the cries for help, and despite the need for help in the face of overwhelming oppression, the psalmist never forgets that God is there and has the power to make a change.

And this is the beauty of the psalms.  They teach us how to grieve and lament in a way that is not destructive to our relationship with God.  Trust.  Providential care.  Abundant love.  They all play a part, even in the midst of desolation.

I remember a few years ago running into someone at a neighborhood market who was profoundly sad.  My brief encounter with her in the aisle revealed a deep and profound longing.  I approach her and half-full shopping cart and two children, as she experienced an overwhelming bout of crying.  I quietly approached, caught her eye, asking “Ma’am.  What’s going on?”  As the drama of her life began to spill out, I realized I would need a quick get-away.  I listened for a brief while, and said a brief prayer on her request, and we went our separate ways.

I believe strongly in the dignity of each person and fight vehemently for it (those of you that know my political leanings), but I am sure you relate to my struggle: How much can I really do to help in the middle of Wal-Mart?  That sense of fight or flight kicked in as a thought selfishly of my long day ahead.

We ran into each other again at the checkout counter.  Sadness and despair had taken hold.  Everything was wrong with her life and it was everyone’s fault.  It was the ex-husband.  It was the kids.  It was the checker.  It was the car mechanic.  Nothing was right.

I offered her refuge at First Pres and that I would love to talk with her more sometime.  “Nothing can fix all this now.  Not even God can save me now.”  She disappeared before I could respond.

I remained at the checkout, bewildered and befuddled by the hopelessness and the powerlessness I felt.  I did not see her again.

All of us have experienced sadness and despair.  The world is full of it.

Where is God for us at our most vulnerable?  How are we going to respond with disappointment, difficulty, and sometimes desolation.  At rock bottom, do we find a savior, or an empty pit?

If I know anything about God, it is that God never leaves us.  I pray that as you cry out to God (those of you that are crying out) that you will find hope in scripture and as you tell your story to each other.  My door is always open.

Let’s discover God together.


Washed of Sin? Say What?


Jer. 17:19-27; Rom. 7:13-25; John 6:16-27

What does it mean to be washed of our sin?  To be “made new”?  We USAmerican Christians don’t talk about sin much these days.  It makes us uncomfortable.  And in our world of “alternative facts” and ideology over facts, we flip the channel or shut off.

Paul tackles an even deeper layer of this – a great concern of early Christians.  If in our baptism we were made new, why are we still hanging out with other Christians on earth and not in heaven?  How does sin fit in if we were washed of our sin?  Isn’t that life over?

Paul’s answer in Romans is very much “Yes and No.”  He speaks of the conflict with the spirit and the flesh – that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

He uses powerful words to describe this life.  Many of these words have been demonized by our culture and so we try to avoid them, to our detriment, because this is how he drills home the importance.  Words and phrases like: slave, war, making me captive, evil lies close at hand.

For Paul the war against the flesh was a cosmic battle.  His intention is not to teach us to hate our bodies, for in other places we learn that our bodies are temples of the Lord, to be cared for and protected.  But at least here, speaking of sin, he is helping to explain the struggle of the mind and the flesh – summing up the human condition.

To be at war with his own true intentions, or to be captive or enslaved by evil, is a good way to describe the “already and not yet” aspects of the kingdom of God. But furthermore, and more importantly, this inner struggle involves the law.  Paul discovers that one cannot master the evil impulses with the law, or with human will.  So he turns to a greater Master.  That master is also the King, the Messiah.  He is the one who has conquered the Evil One on the battlefield at the cross.

This is where Paul’s argument gains much momentum.  It is not that our physical and spiritual selves are at war with one another, making us schizophrenic-like.  Instead the battle is for grace and hope and life.  It is beyond our individual SINS, and attests to the power and domain of one who went before us to conquer the sting of SIN.

I encounter a lot of people as a minister who are struggling with various inner conflicts.  Some are trapped in abusive relationships, or unfulfilling careers.  Others are struggling with guilt they have imposed on themselves that haunts them from childhood.  Others are struggling with addiction or sexual identity.

To all these people Paul is saying that there is hope.  And his hope is not that the flesh can be overcome with the spirit, but that the flesh can be overcome by the Spirit.  Notice the capitalization.  Paul turns and appeals to God as the one who overcomes the law with grace, and helps in the struggle of the human condition.  The promise is the Spirit of life, in whom judgment does not reign supreme, but love, grace, and acceptance.


Gather ‘Round


Jer. 16:10-21; Rom. 7:1-12; John 6:1-15

If you who know me well, you know I like to eat.  I spend a fair amount of my free time in fellowship with friends and family.  From perfecting the best baby back rib recipe to baking pies or cookies, I love cooking almost as much as I love eating!  I simply love the togetherness that goes with eating around a table.

Just yesterday I participated in OCU’s World Religion Expo.  Naturally I was stationed at the Presbyterian table.  Right across the way was the Conservative Jewish table and the Reformed Jewish table.  All three of us had food.  Of course!  They had challah bread.  We had bowls of candy and goodies – representing the grace and abundance God offers.  It is hard to talk about religion without talking about food.

Table fellowship is a central part of so many religions.  Eating is not only important, but sacred to many.  Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Christians especially know the power of food.  From the Passover to the Lord’s Supper, there is a common thread of food throughout the New Testament.  One of the central feasts we see is the feeding of the five thousand.

Jesus says to Philip to test him, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  Six months wages wouldn’t cover it, Philip responds.  Andrew brings forth a boy with five barley loaves and two fish.  After all are satisfied, twelve baskets of fragments are collected.

Some folks like to focus on the “magical” elements of this, attempting to describe or explain how this all happened.  I am much more interested in the eating itself.  What is happening?  In many ways eating is power.  These folks sit down to share a meal – sharing being the operative word – and bonds are built.  For Ancient Israel, to invite in a stranger to eat meant lasting bonds of friendship.

Jesus is gathering 5000 strangers.  That’s power.  There is a signal that his following is growing, and with it his power.

John is a series of I AM statements.  While there is not an explicit I AM statement here, if I were to come up with one it would be: I AM THE ONE WHO BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER.

These are fighting words to the Roman authority.  Togetherness is power.  It is one of the reasons I worry about America.  We seem very lax in our table fellowship, and I fear the day we wake up and discover we have nothing in common with our neighborhood, our church, or even our own family.

Where are the neighborhood block parties?  Where are the children who used to play outside?  Are the sequestered off by themselves playing their never-ending online game?  Or are they at the table with everyone else, experiencing that we are all in this together?  Does your family eat alone?

I invite you to the power that Christ offers us.  It is a power of togetherness and comradery that cannot be broken.  It is a world where differences melt before our eyes, and the unity of Christ prevails once more.


In God We Trust


Jer. 10:11-24; Rom. 5:12-21; John 8:21-32

Today Jeremiah paints a dramatic picture of the upcoming exile.  It is despair that eclipses even news of Russian/campaign ties, London attacks, or the healthcare debacles of our day.  To Jeremiah that would be small potatoes.

He speaks to a people whose very homeland is in the balance.  Jeremiah is blunt and to the point, even calling the people “stupid” twice.  He understands this is not just a time of affliction, but an age where self-centeredness leaves no room for repentance.

HE MUST BE ALIVE AND PREACHING IN 2017!!!  The arrogance and self-centeredness with which I see our politicians leading is beyond belief.  Oh how I wish Jeremiah would come  and stand in front of our Congress today and speak with the same power and authority.  Oh how I wish the ears of our leaders would be opened.

From out of the doom and gloom, his call is to action.  As Zion laments over the loss of her children, Jeremiah speaks of this time period as one of lamenting over the wound itself, calling the people a lair of jackals, and demanding that they acknowledge God’s all-encompassing power, who made the heavens and the earth, and pointing to God’s infinite wisdom.

In the face of sure despair, he still turns to God in trust.  We have something to learn from him.  Ultimately this whole grand shenanigan surrounding healthcare seems a rouse.  There is no hope of passing the Senate.  So why all the hub-bub?  I suppose we have to fill the news outlets with some story of drama.

I wonder what would happen if all the cameras would disappear, and the media would only report on healthcare when something actually changed.  I suspect things would actually get done much faster.  We are a people who crave attention.

Instead of looking to the next poll, or how many Twitter likes he has, Jeremiah descends into prayer, asking, “Correct me, O Lord, but in just measure; not in your anger, or you will bring me to nothing.  Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not know you, and on all the people that do not call on your name.”

In the midst of utter desolation, Jeremiah clings to hope.  It is not hope in the people, but in appeal to God’s mercy.  If you know the story, you know that despite the broken covenant, God does not destroy the people, but simply sends them into exile.

Jeremiah understands the true exile would be to not know God.  He understands that the current physical afflictions are minor hiccups, but that they are also birth pangs.

We as the Church need to take our cues from Jeremiah.  We are in exile – wrapped up in ourselves, our egos and needs.  And we need to snap out of it and realize God is the captain of this ship, not us.

In whom did we put our trust?  I think I forgot.

The focus has become on ourselves.  We have tried to convince ourselves that the church must be fought for, when in reality, the Church needs to be discovered.  We try harder, only to realize that God was in control all along.

We can rest in the words of Jeremiah today, knowing that once we were in exile, but now we have been found – found in a way that is beyond our comprehension.  God found us in our baptism, and as we died in those waters, God took us as his own and fulfilled the words of John’s Gospel for today, “Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Indeed that is true.  So God came to us instead.  And he pointed the way.  Are we listening?


St Patrick’s – corrected

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day


Jer. 5:1-9; Rom. 2:25-3:18; John 5:30-47

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I share with you today one of my favorite hymns, St. Patrick’s Breastplate:



I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in the Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgement hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the  lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

[Against the demon snares of sin,
the vice that gives temptation force,
the natural lusts that war within,
the hostile men that mar my course;
of few or many, far or nigh,
in every place, and in all hours
against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
against false words of heresy,
against the knowledge that defiles
against the heart’s idolatry,
against the wizard’s evil craft,
against the death-wound and the burning
the choking wave and poisoned shaft,
protect me, Christ, till thy returning.]

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.




Jer. 4:9-10,19-28; Rom. 2:12-24; John 5:19-29

I look with sad eyes upon our Jeremiah passage today.  He paints a picture of a barren wasteland –  no one in it,  cities in ruin.  He carries the burden and sorrow of a doomed nation.  It reminded me of the hopelessness, isolation, and withdrawal that some feel – to those who have contemplated suicide.

I have been a pastor long enough to see suicide touch our communities far more times than any of us would like.  Sometimes we don’t even know.  Or it goes unspoken.

Suicide can be so devastating, with questions left unanswered, pain, grief, and often secret tears, sometimes years in the making.  Trauma and distress are all around – and not just our community, but the whole world – suffering and isolation seems to abound.

How do we reach out to each other in love?  How do we reach out to hopelessness, either within us or within others?  The plot thickens when we see the stigma that our society holds around mental illness, and the quiet longing for confidentiality and gentleness.

Little comfort was drawn from the other passages for today, which speak of judgment and authority.  (A lot of the readings in Lent can be pretty heavy.)

As always, I am tempted to sit back, soak it in, and spend my time listening – not to turn away from the pain, but to gently embrace it – listening to God, listening to others, listening for hope.  This is a great thing to do on days like today, Spring break for many, enjoying a day off of work or school.

I think one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves, and give God, is the gift of listening.  It is then we come in tune with the needs around us, and begin to sense a way forward.

May your day be filled with quiet understanding.  May the hope of the Gospel of Christ reign in your hearts – for in God you have purpose.  May the hope of a better life wash over you, and may you all know that your lives are bound up in Christ Jesus our Lord, the hope for this desperate world.