Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem

War torn, broken, divided.

Your holy city is

not a city of peace

but strife,

division,

and deep wounds.

 

Rockets fly overhead

inaugurating a new round

of hostility.

Lord we pray for your peace to descend–

not the piecemeal peace

of  unhappy truces.

But your Shalom—

wholeness, restoration and fullness of life.

May all who love you prosper.

May all in the walls of Jerusalem know peace and security.

For the sake of friends and relatives, we speak peace

For all who seek the God of Abraham we cry peace.

Prayers For Ordinary Time- Week 12 after Pentecost

Today marks the second consecutive Sunday that I am missing church because I have to work. In this day and age, this is a reality for many people, my experience is hardly unique but I hate missing church. But as I look at the Lectionary for today I am greeted by the opening of the Psalm 111: “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.” Despite not being there in body I am there in Spirit and I am thankful for the truth of the rest of this psalm which proclaims all the God has done on behalf of his people, his covenant faithfulness to them and exhorts us to practice the ‘fear of the Lord’ (reverent awe and deference to God in how you live your life).  This prayer is my own meditation on this psalm. 

 

Creator, Sustainer and Lover of My Soul–

As your people gather today and lift their voice as one in praise for your name,

count my voice among their chorus. I give thanks to You!

It is your mighty work and righteousness that endures forever,

And you are famous for your wondrous deeds and abundant mercy.

Look at all you have done!

 

Thank you that you have blessed us with an inheritance among the nations,

we are your people and we live in light of All you have done for us.

We have seen your faithfulness in all that you have done–

in your mighty works,

in your tender love towards us,

in all your judgments and precepts.

Teach us to walk in your ways, ever following the paths you have laid out.

You are are Redeemer, our Savior and the one that has brought us into Covenant-Relationship with You!

All praise to Your Name for all You are, and all You do.

Teach me to follow and honor You in all I do.

Praise to You Forever.

Amen.

Prayer in Ordinary Time (week 7 after Pentecost)

I mistakenly named last week’s prayer as week seven after Pentecost, but no matter (prayer is prayer). This prayer is  my reflection (paraphrase and amplification) on Psalm 24 which gives us three ‘who’ questions (the first two occur in  parallelism and the last question is a repeated refrain).

  1. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
  2. Who shall stand in His Holy Place?
  3. Who is the King of Glory?
  4. Who is the King of Glory?
The Psalm itself bears evidence of its use in corporate worship (the Q and A seems to be a call and response). I also have changed the Psalm from speaking about God (in the third person) to speaking to God. This is not a straight paraphrase but a way of using this psalm as prayer.

The earth is yours–all there is and all who live here!

           Maker of rivers and seas.

Who shall ascend your holy hill and stand in the holy place where you dwell?

          Those of us who are blameless—

                                            with clean hands

                                                    who do not worship idols

                                                                  who do not tell lies.

                    

           As we walk in your ways you will bless us and justify us

                  for You are the God of our Salvation.

                     May we like Jacob be numbered among those who

                            wrestle through the night and seek your face.

 

Let us lift up our heads and open the way for our King of Glory to enter in fullness!

       Who are You, King of Glory?

           You are the strong and mighty Lord, mighty in battle!

 

Let us lift up my head and open the doors for our King of Glory to enter in fullness!

      Who are You,  King of Glory?

           The Lord of the angel armies–You are our King of Glory!

Continue reading Prayer in Ordinary Time (week 7 after Pentecost)

A Commentary on the Psalms: a book review

Psalms v1 Ross I was particularly excited about reviewing A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1 (1-41), part of the Kregel Exegetical Library. The Psalms are the book of the Bible I have spent the most time investigating both academically and personally. I’ve studied the Psalms to have them shape my prayer life and collect thoughtful commentaries, devotionals, studies and introductions to the Psalms. So Allen Ross’s commentary looked interesting to me and wanted to see what insights he gleaned from his years of study in the psalms.

But another reason that makes this book appeal to me is that it is written by Allen P. Ross. In seminary, his Introducing Biblical Hebrew was the text that laid the foundation of what I know of Hebrew grammar and syntax. So in a way I feel like Ross is one of the guys that really opened up the Hebrew scriptures for me in a fresh way and I wanted to see what he did here.

This commentary did not disappoint me. Ross represents some of the best critically engaged confessional scholarship today. Bringing his knowledge of Hebrew to bear on the text, he translates, notates the text critical issues and makes judicious judgments on the text. Sensitive to elements of Hebrew poetics, psalm genres and life setting of the psalms he draws on a wide range of scholarship, presenting his commentary on the passage in the form of an expository outline on the text and offers brief comments on each psalm’s message and application.

But despite his obvious scholarship, what sets this book apart from other high level critical commentaries, is its readability. Ross is able to craft a commentary which is accessible to the laity and working pastor, but also one that is engaged in scholarly literature and discussion. If you’ve sat down and read commentaries cover to cover, you know that this can be a rare combination.

There are other things I liked. The commentary focuses on book 1 of the Psalms which is full of Psalms of David, royal psalms, personal laments, prayers for victory in battle and didactic hymns. Ross does a good job making this relevant to the modern Christian and his expository outlines give me a little bit of the flavor of how a passage might preach (as an occasional preacher, I like this). But before he comments on the individual psalms, he also has several introductory articles on the whole psalms which discuss the value of the psalms, their headings, the history of interpretation, the interpretation of biblical poetry, literary forms and functions, theology of the psalms and his method of exposition. A lot of this is drawn from other literature I have on my shelf, but Ross does such a good job of summarizing other commentators and representing their insights accessibly. This makes it ideal for a student of the psalms.

What Ross offers in terms of his exegetical work is a careful, attentive reading of the biblical text. I have other commentators on my shelf whose exegesis is more creative and engaging than Ross is. They challenge me to think about the text in new ways, but I disagree with them more. What I get from Ross is a more consistent and solid interpretation, often favoring a traditional understanding (i.e. he accepts the superscriptions as reliable unless a compelling reason dictates that he shouldn’t and reads carefully not suggestively). That isn’t to say that I agree with Ross on every point (or any other commentator for that matter), but I appreciate his style and attentiveness.

This is a helpful addition to the pastor’s or student’s library. I recommend this highly and look forward to the release of the next couple of volumes.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me with a copy of this commentary in exchange for this review.

A little more Orthodox than normal (A Prayer book review?)

Prayer Book of the Early ChristiansWhen the author of Ecclesiastes penned, “On the writing of books there is no end” he had no idea what the future of publication held for prayer-books. Books on prayer abound and every year you can expect to see new books promising some new spiritual insight which will make you a better pray-er. Despite this (and seminary) I am still a neophyte at prayer and struggle, like everyone, to have regular prayer times and establish a rhythm of prayer.

What is refreshing about Prayer Book of the Early Christians is that has no new spiritual insights of any kind and it makes no promises that ‘reading it’ will make you a better pray-er. Rather, this book draws on the wisdom of the early church and the Orthodox tradition. This is not a book to be ‘read’ though I have done that for the purposes of this review. Rather this is a book to be prayed.

John A McGuckin is an Orthodox priest and patristic scholar. He has gathered up the pieces of this prayer-book from the richness of the Christian tradition, particularly the Christian east. After a brief introduction offering advice about prayer and the use of this book, the book unfolds in three parts. Part I presents prayers for the Ritual Offices of the day (i.e. Vespers, Compline, Matins, the first and third hours of the day). Part II contains rituals and prayer services for various occasions (traveling, the blessing of a house, prayer for the sick, grace before meals, personal repentance, etc.) Part III collects various prayers and hymns from the Ancient saints.

What I really like how this book unfolds the beauty and prayerfulness of the Orthodox tradition. If the church in the East has a gift for the whole church it is how the life of prayer penetrates their entire theological reflection. These prayers and rituals are rich and beautiful reflections on the triune God.

Of course some of what is here is foreign to me as an Evangelical christian. My understanding of the Christian faith has been more profoundly shaped by the Roman Road (not the ‘road to Rome’) than by the Great Tradition, so the practice of candles, incense, praying with icons are all things that are new to me (these are not strictly required to pray any of these prayers but suggested by McGuckin as part of one’s ‘prayer kit’) Also the ritual offices include prayers offered to Mary the mother of God. I am willing to admit that Evangelicals do not pay Mary due homage, but these are prayers I can’t in good conscience pray. I mention these things not as a criticism, but to say that while I appreciate and am enthusiastic about this prayerbook, McGuckin’s theological tradition is different from my own and not every prayer speaks meaningfully to me in my context.

My one criticism of this book is that I feel that a book called ‘Prayer Book of the Early Christians’ should have more prayers gathered in it than it in fact does. But the choice to restrict the amount of prayers may have been intentional because what we are left with is a short, hardcover volume which contributes to its personal usefulness and portability.

This book may be used profitably by individuals and churches who are interested in dipping deeper into the Christian tradition and the life of prayer (Paraclete has special prices for multiple copies. As I have indicated, reading a Prayer Book is the wrong way to assess it. This book has prayers to pray and commends a lifestyle of prayer to entered into. I, myself, am using this book over the season of Lent, planning to pray ‘the hours’ and likely will blog about my experience with this in the coming weeks. My initial assessment of the book is positive and think that this book can enrich your (and my) devotional life.

Thank you to Paraclete press for providing me a copy for the purpose of this review. Please stay tuned for further thoughts on how these prayers are leading me into an encounter with the Triune God!

Nothing of Substance to Say

Blank stareI have just finished up editing my two sermons for tomorrow and excited about them. Beware a preacher who is excited about what he has to say! Then again: beware a preacher who is not excited about what he has to say! As I have pressed into the meaning of the transfiguration and the transforming power of the Gospel (as described in Ephesians:1-7) God has wowed me and I am encouraged and hungry for more of his presence and transforming power. My hope is that my hearers catch my excitement!

So obviously I think I have something of substance to say, but not here and not today. Instead I thought I would give y’all a heads up on what I will be posting here in the weeks ahead:

    -I’ll link these sermons I’ve blogged on, when they are posted online.
    -Expect more book reviews, starting with the book I will be using as my prayerbook through lent
    -Speaking of Lent, I will take this season to press into the nature of sin and hope to blog my thoughts on the subject and interacting with writings of contemporary authors, desert saints, and puritans (or if you have any other suggestions, happy to oblige)
    -In the same vein, I will blog the so called penitential psalms
    -Expect to see some more of my commentary, my cranky cynicism and small graces

Stay tuned, sooner or later I will have something substantive to say.

On learning the Psalms

This summer I preached a sermon on Psalm 51 as part of a summer series my church was doing on the Psalms. You can listen to it here.

As part of the series, Mark Fox, our pastor challenged us to learn one of the psalms. As I was preaching on Ps. 51, I worked at memorizing that one. This has been particularly fruitful for me, especially as Psalm 51 is one of the great Psalms of confession. I have used it to focus and guide my own prayer life. Often I have said the psalm to God as I have taken my morning jog.

Then about six weeks ago, I read Mark Buchanan’s Spiritual Rhythm: Being With Jesus Every Season of the Soul. In this book Buchanan uses the metaphor of the seasons (Winter, Spring, Summer & Fall) to speak of the various seasons we each go through in our Spiritual life and suggests how in each season, we can cultivate our relationship with God in each season.

In the season which Buchanan calls Fall (colder season, but also the time of Harvest) he writes:

After my winter I knew I needed more. I needed more fat on my frame for the next time I found myself in a cold land with little shelter. So I began to memorize the Bible. I don’t mean bits and pieces of it, favorite verses to suck on like lozenges when my throat was a tad dry. Not that that isn’t useful. But I never found it much. It was for me a pocket of loose change, good for tokens and such, but not something you go trading with. (176)

Buchanan then goes on to describe memorizing Hebrews 12, the Sermon on the Mount, Romans 8 and Phillipians (177). He also makes passing references in the body of his text to Psalms he has memorized.

I decided to take up Buchanan’s challenge to memorize Scripture and since I already got started with the Psalms, I decided to continue there. My insane impossible goal is to memorize fifteen Psalms a year for ten years (which would mean I would learn the whole book of Psalms). This may not be attainable, but its worth a try and at the very least I’ll memorize a bunch of the Psalms. This has several benefits:

1. The Psalms teaches us to pray. In this I am just repeating what I learned from reading people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Eugene Peterson.
2. The Psalms speaks honestly about the human condition in relationship to God. There are Psalms that are pure praise songs (Ps. 100) and others which are full of sorrow and dread (Psalm 88). Walter Brueggemann in his Message of the Psalms usefully categorizes the Psalms as Psalms of Orientation (confidence in God), Disorientation (but there is a lot of crap we have to deal with) and New Orientation (looking back to God in the midst of our crap). [The parentheses in previous sentence are completely my own so don’t go blaming Bruggemann for them :)]. Therefore learning the Psalms should help me have words, no matter what Spiritual season I find myself in.
3. Psalms are the most referred to book of the OT in the NT, especially on the lips of Jesus. Thus learning the Psalms helps me enter more fully into New Testament Spirituality.
4. I have an M.Div and feel called to Pastoral Ministry. Because of the Psalms breadth and depth, they are a treasure trove for pastoral care and direction. That is, learning the Psalms will aid me to more fully live into my vocation as a pastor.

And so I have begun. Thus far I have memorized Psalm 31, 51 and 131. Which is a good start. My plan is to do all the Psalms ending in 1 this year and move up sequentially by number in the following years (that way I don’t have to tackle Psalm 119 for 9 years).

The idea is not just rote memorization, but to really learn these Psalms.