Thursday, June 13, 2013

Help Wanted

From where does my help come? (Psalm 121:1)

Sooner or later we all need help.

All of us know this is true. Some of us are slow to admit it. And when it comes to actually asking for help, that’s a different matter entirely. I have known good people who would do anything thing for me. If their presence was needed, they’d be right there. If something else was needed, they’d give it if they had it.

But the last thing in the world they would ever do is ask for help. To do so would be a violation of some unspoken code of honor. It would be an imposition on others and an embarrassment to themselves. They will give you the shirt off their back, as the saying goes. But they’ll freeze to death before asking for the same.

Very often we gage the largeness of a soul by its capacity to give help. We recognize depth of heart by its willingness to feel compassion and be present to someone who is in need. But perhaps this isn’t an entirely accurate way to assess the health of the human soul. A willingness to receive help may reveal just as much about a person as their willingness to give it.

Here’s the danger: Just as a willingness to give help speaks to our benevolence, the refusal to accept help from others may point to a subtle pride. We love to play the hero, though never overtly seeking applause. But we dread being seen as needy and insufficient. Thus, we gladly go to the rescue. We never call for help.

Psalm 121 begins with the assumption that we need help. The Psalm opens with the Psalmist looking for help – looking around at the hills. Eugene Peterson argues that this ‘looking to the hills’ actually refers to places of idol worship, the site of shrines and Ashera poles that tempted God’s people to faithless disobedience. The sight of these false places of worship gave rise to a question: “Where does my help come from?”

That we need help is never questioned. The only question has to so with where we will find it. The answer is given immediately. “My help comes from the Lord.” This kind of help is constant, faithful, never failing, life-long. This isn’t simply help that we need. This help we want. We seek it every day because we need it every day.

What do you need help with today: A decision, a relationship, a circumstance in your life that will not change, or a change in your life you didn’t want? There is no simpler prayer than “help me.” And the God to whom we pray is an “ever present help in trouble.”

We give you thanks, O God, for your faithful help. Grant us grace that we might humbly seek it, knowing that your sufficiency is demonstrated in our need. Help us today, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


The Lord is your shade on your right hand (Psalm 121:5)

During August in Southern Oklahoma a light breeze is an epiphany, evidence that there is a God in heaven and that this God is good. Add some shade from a decent sized tree, and you’ve got something akin to the parting of the Red Sea and water from the rock.

On more than one occasion I’ve mentioned the congregation I served in Oklahoma during my seminary days. In this church a “building program” meant more than raising money. It meant that we actually built the building, as in hammering things together. We started our “building program” in August, a time of year in Oklahoma in which the sun can work on your flesh like a convection oven.

Thankfully, the front part of our property was graced by the presence of a rather large tree. That may not sound like such a big deal, but trees of respectable size in southern Oklahoma are a treasure. A small rise in the ground served as a kind of pedestal for the tree, and this is where we would sit when it was time to stop work and enjoy the sandwiches and fried chicken that had been brought to us for lunch. And occasionally, just every now and then, that rise in the ground would catch a breeze, a gift of grace. Whenever I think of the way God guards us and the grace that sustains us I remember that tree. Never in my life have I been so thankful for shade.

However, the presence of that tree and the shade it gave us did not change the reality in which we lived and worked. The tree gave us shade but it did not drive away the heat or diminish the intensity of the sun. The shade gave us a refuge in the middle of the day, but it did not exempt us from the conditions of late summer in Oklahoma.

Psalm 121 says that “the Lord is your shade at your right hand.” Connected to this image is the promise that the sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. But these dangers and the threats they represent are still very real. In his commentary on Psalm 121, John Calvin takes pains to explain that the Psalmist does not “promise the faithful a condition of such felicity and comfort as implies an exemption from all trouble.” We are not exempt, but we are covered.

On those blistering days of work in the flat wide-open spaces of Oklahoma, all it took was one tree. That one tree gave us refuge. Whatever conditions you’re living in today, remember that there is always shade to be found. There is a place to rest and regroup. “The Lord is your shade at your right hand.”

We give you thanks, O God, for the shade you provide when conditions are too much for us. You do not always spare us the pain of what they bring – but you cover us with grace to endure. You are indeed a refuge for us, and we find our strength in the shadow of your wings. Cover us with your grace in all that this day may bring, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Your Next Move

He will not let your foot slip . . . (Psalm 121:3).

Some people are always looking for the next thing. You may be one of those people. You may be pondering the next trip, the next deal, the next semester, the next date. You may see exactly where you’re headed and you’ve got a pretty good idea of how to get there. Or maybe not.

You may have no idea what’s next. A lack of clarity may have you stuck. Maybe even a lack of courage. Maybe your next move is confronting you with some equally attractive or equally dreadful options. Which one to take?

The movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is the story of a young chess prodigy, Josh Waitzkin. The film follows Josh’s rise to national prominence, culminating in the match for the national title – a match played against another young genius who, in a previous match, had caused Josh to doubt himself and his abilities.

At one point in this national title match Josh loses a key piece, the queen, to his opponent. Josh is clearly rattled. He turns his gaze intently to the board, imagining in his mind a blank playing surface. Everything around him seems to vanish as he calculates his next move and the likely responses from the player seated opposite him.

With each move captured on a TV monitor, Josh’s coach and parents watch nervously from another room. At this critical moment in the match, the coach sees the path to victory. He whispers to monitor: “It’s there Josh. It’s only twelve moves away. Don’t move until you see it.” Josh gazes at the board until those twelve moves unfold in his mind, and then he sees it. You can probably guess how the story ends.

At times, I’ve tried to look at my life the way Josh Waitzkin looked at that chess board. I’ve wanted to see the next twelve moves unfold, a clear path to the win or at least the best outcome. God does grant to some a visionary gift, but most of us cannot see the next twelve moves. Typically life is lived one move at a time. The chess coach urged Josh not to move until he could see the win. By contrast, God asks us not to stand still. We make the next move and trust God for the one after that.

Psalm 121 gives us words to pray when we’re pondering the next move. We are reminded over and over that God will “keep” us. The Psalm makes no promises as to what will come our way as we move ahead. Threats and risks are real. We don’t get twelve moves to the win in Psalm 121.

Take time to look carefully at the blank board. See as deeply as you can into what lies in front of you. But do not expect to see every move. At some point simply make the next move. Step into this day trusting God to do what he has promised to do. He will not let your foot slip.

What next move are you pondering and praying about today?

Guide us, O God, to whatever comes next. Give us grace for the next move, knowing that you make our steps firm. We ask you to confirm the right direction and correct what is misguided. We trust you to do this work in us as we seek to follow you and serve you with our lives. Let our next move – and every move – bring us more in line with your will, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, June 10, 2013

He neither Slumbers nor Sleeps

He who keeps you will not slumber . . . (Psalm 121:3).

The things that matter most to you matter to Jesus.

Let that sink in for a moment as you begin this day. Remind yourself of this as the day unfolds. What you care about, Jesus cares about. Every concern is noted, every restless thought registered. There is not a detail of your life today that escapes the notice of the living Christ.

And yet, while Jesus stands with us in our storms, but he doesn’t share our fear. Whatever it is that keeps us up at night doesn’t have God pacing the heavens, wringing hands that formed the earth and sky and sea.

Psalm 121 tells us that “the God who watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 121:4). The same can be said of your life. In this Psalm of eight verses, God is spoken of eight times as a guardian or one who guards. God watches over your life with a constant vigilance. This confident Psalm will be the focus of our attention this week.

God may never slumber or sleep, but sometimes we wonder. There is a story in Mark 4 where Jesus – the word-made-flesh – took a nap. He dozed off just as the threat of a storm was approaching. The disciples couldn’t understand this. How can he be sleeping? Doesn’t he care?

We don’t understand it either. Their questions are our questions. Jesus may be present, but that doesn’t mean much if he isn’t paying attention to what’s happening.

If every good story has some element of tension, Mark creates this by highlighting the contrast between the fearful disciples and the sleeping Jesus. Waves are slapping the boat, pounding with a spray that stings; curling up high and spilling into the craft.

So many details are left out. What did they do to help themselves? No doubt, they did what they could to manage the situation. Maybe they bailed water or pulled at the riggings. We do this kind of thing in our storms. “Why bother Jesus with this?” But as our anxieties escalate the sleeping figure of the Christ eventually begins to bother us, even anger us. We reach a point of exasperation where we cry out, “do you not care that we are perishing?” Ever prayed a prayer like that?

But here’s the gospel – good news! Jesus does now what he did then. Just as he spoke peace to the elements of nature, he can speak peace today to broken hearts and fractured homes and war-torn nations. We are sometimes tempted to despair because it seems that Jesus is sleeping, out of touch. He isn’t. We see and feel a threat. Jesus does not. We see catastrophe. Jesus speaks command. We’re eaten up with anxieties. Jesus exudes peace. And he brings that peace to bear on the storm itself.

Our reflections this week will be aimed at putting some steel in your faith. Our God is ever vigilant. He will not let your foot slip. So what is it that robs you of peace today? Whatever it is, Jesus has it firmly in hand. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he who watches over you “neither slumbers nor sleeps.”

Merciful God, at times the storms overwhelm me. The storms seem powerful and active, while you seem distant and sleepy. Remind me today that you command the elements of every storm. Give me a fresh vision of your power, and with it grant peace through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Summer Book Club: John Ortberg's "Who is this Man?"

WHEN: Thursdays at 12:00 noon (ending by 1:00)  beginning this week, June 6th.

WHERE: At "The Lodge" - directly across from the sanctuary of Peachtree Presbyterian Church. Come upstairs to the Appalachian Room. the address of the building is 3417 Roswell Road NW, ATL 30305.

WHAT: We will be reading through John Ortberg's book Who is the Man: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus.