A Blessed Lent


Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. If you didn’t grow up with Lent (and I know many of you didn’t, myself included), here’s a bit of background. The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for “springtime.” It refers to the length of time before Easter, traditionally forty days, when the Church prepares to commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Just as Advent helps us prepare spiritually for Christmas, Lent helps us prepare spiritually for Holy Week and Easter.

You may be asking, Do I have to observe Lent? The first answer is, Of course not. But the second answer is, Why wouldn’t you? This season is a gift to us wherein we may pause and reflect on our lives in light of Jesus Christ. So, I encourage you to observe it this year. Typically folks use this time as a chance to give something up: certain foods, certain media, certain habits. In recent years it’s become popular to take something on: daily prayer, for instance, or journaling and letter-writing. Regardless, the goal isn’t self-promotion (pride) but self-effacement (humility). What will help you humble yourself over the next forty days, so that you can see Jesus more clearly? Whatever the answer is, do it.

Much more can be said — but for now I’ll leave you with the sage words of St. Ambrose of Milan. Let’s pray this together, and mean it:

O Lord, who has mercy upon all:
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of your Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore You,
a heart to delight in You,
to follow and enjoy You, for Christ's sake,

Image credit:  Agnolo Gaddi, “Crucifixion”

Do You Want to Get Well?

rem heal.jpg

Today we heard the story of Jesus healing an "invalid" at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-18).  Jesus asks a probing question: "Do you want to get well?"  The man does, and Jesus heals him. 

One-fifth of all the material in the Gospels is concerned with Jesus' healing of some form of physical disease.  This has dramatic implications for our life today as Jesus' followers.  The Son of God came to save us and to heal us - in body and in soul, in this life or in the life to come.  

Take a look at these extra resources, especially the Wilson article I referenced in my sermon.

- Blake

We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that He has power but also wonderful foretastes of what He is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.
— Tim Keller, "The Reason for God"

Image credit: Rembrandt, “Christ Healing” 

Come and See

Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?”
They said to Him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come and see.”
- John 1:38-39

Week 2 in John’s Gospel finds us making the turn from knowing about Jesus to following after Jesus. John the Baptist acts as our guide, helping us (and those first disciples) get their bearings for this new adventure. What will you do when he comes calling, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?

- Blake

We need to pledge ourselves anew to the cause of Christ. We must capture the spirit of the early church. Wherever the early Christians went, they made a triumphant witness for Christ. Whether on the village streets or in the city jails, they daringly proclaimed the good news of the gospel.” - Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love

"Those who aren't following Jesus aren't his followers. It's that simple. Followers follow, and those who don't follow aren't followers. To follow Jesus means to follow Jesus into a society where justice rules, where love shapes everything. To follow Jesus means to take up his dream and work for it." - Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow

John the Baptist and the “pointing hand” (Grunewald’s  Isenheim Altarpiece )

John the Baptist and the “pointing hand” (Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece)

The Light Has Come

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” - John 1:4

Today we started our new study of John. Here are a few of the things I mentioned. Hope you can join us in reading and praying along through this beautiful Fourth Gospel. 

 - Blake

“John flies like an eagle above the cloud of human weakness and looks upon the light of unchanging truth with the most lofty and firm eyes of the heart. And gazing on the very deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which he is equal to the Father, he has striven in this Gospel to confide this above all...” - Thomas Aquinas


From Falling Up by Shel Silverstein, gettin’ all theological: 


“Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (because sometimes hymns say it best):

And never, ever forget: 


Praise the Lord

Psalm 134 - the last of the songs of ascent - ends with a call to praise:

Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
who minister by night in the house of the Lord.

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
and praise the Lord.

May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.

This reminds us that we are made to praise God.  That our chief end (as the Westminster Catechism says) is to glorify God and enjoy him forever!  Could there be a more fitting call for Christ the King Sunday?

Eugene Peterson says this:

Glorify.  Enjoy.  There are other things involved in Christian discipleship... But it is extremely important to know the one thing that overrides everything else.  The main thing is not work for the Lord; it is not suffering in the name of the Lord; it is not witnessing to the Lord; it is not teaching Sunday School for the Lord; it is not being responsible for the sake of the Lord in community; it is not keeping the Ten Commandments; not loving your neighbor; not observing the golden rule.  ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’  Or, in the vocabulary of Psalm 134, to bless God.
— A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 198

Hope in the Lord

Psalm 130 begins in the depths and ends with redemption.  This movement -- from lament to hope, sin to forgiveness, suffering to redemption -- is at the heart of the Gospel.  How do see this in your life?  What do you hope for in the Lord?

For added meaning to today's sermon, check out these resources:

Christina Rossetti, De Profundis (“Out of the Depths”)

Oh why is heaven built so far, 
Oh why is earth set so remote? 
I cannot reach the nearest star
That hangs afloat. 

I would not care to reach the moon, 
One round monotonous of change; 
Yet even she repeats her tune
Beyond my range. 

I never watch the scatter'd fire
Of stars, or sun's far-trailing train, 
But all my heart is one desire, 
And all in vain: 

For I am bound with fleshly bands, 
Joy, beauty, lie beyond my scope; 
I strain my heart, I stretch my hands, 
And catch at hope. 

John Donne, Hymn to God, my God, in My Sickness

Since I am coming to that holy room, 
         Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore, 
I shall be made thy music; as I come
         I tune the instrument here at the door, 
         And what I must do then, think here before. 

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
         Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown
         That this is my south-west discovery, 
      Per fretum febris, by these straits to die, 

I joy, that in these straits I see my west; 
         For, though their currents yield return to none, 
What shall my west hurt me? As west and east
         In all flat maps (and I am one) are one, 
         So death doth touch the resurrection. 

Is the Pacific Sea my home? Or are
         The eastern riches? Is Jerusalem? 
Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar, 
         All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them, 
         Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem. 

We think that Paradise and Calvary, 
         Christ's cross, and Adam's tree, stood in one place; 
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me; 
         As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face, 
         May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace. 

So, in his purple wrapp'd, receive me, Lord; 
         By these his thorns, give me his other crown; 
And as to others' souls I preach'd thy word, 
         Be this my text, my sermon to mine own: 
"Therefore that he may raise, the Lord throws down." 

Emily Dickinson, Hope is the Thing With Feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Faith & Work

"Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain."

Looking for ways to connect your work to your faith in light of this morning's sermon on Psalm 127?  Take a look at these resources:

See The Center for Faith and Work for more from Katherine Alsdorf & Tim Keller.

You may also enjoy these books:

Surprised by Joy

"The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy!" - Psalm 126
"Joy is a not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence." - Eugene Peterson

Today's song of ascent (Psalm 126) is about the joy of following Christ.  Here are some more resources to help us reflect and cultivate deeper joy, that this fruit of the Spirit might blossom and grow to the glory of God, even in the midst of struggle.

"Joy" according to C.S. Lewis (see also his book Surprised by Joy and sermon The Weight of Glory)

"Theology of Joy & the Good Life" Project at Yale Divinity School

"Hidden Joys: A Sonnet for the Visitation" - poem by Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons

Reflections on "Joy" by theologian Stanley Hauerwas

More resources on the Psalms

Our study of the Psalms continues at First Presbyterian Church!

“If you are interested in exploring the psalms further... here are a few resources that might be of interest to you or to your community. I will also be posting additional material on the Brehm Texas website. A warm thanks to The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and to Cardiphonia for their help in collecting these resources.” - David Taylor, assistant professor of theology and culture and the director of Brehm Texas

Psalms and Prayer

Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit
Walter Brueggeman (Wipf & Stock Pub, 2007)

Reflections on the Psalms
C. S. Lewis (Mariner Books, 1964)

Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer
Eugene Peterson (Mariner Books, 1964)

Praying with the Psalms: A Year of Daily Prayers and Reflections on the Words of David
Eugene Peterson (HarperOne, 1993)

U2 and the Psalms

Psalm References in U2’s Music
“40,” “Gloria,” “Scarlet,” “Vertigo,” “Love and Peace or Else,” “All Because of You,” “Yahweh.”

The Sayings of Bono (on the Psalms)
David Taylor (Diary of an Arts Pastor, 2016)

Ancient Psalms for a State of the Art Tour
Tim Neufeld (www.ATU2.com, 2015)

Eugene Peterson: U2 Connections
Angela Pancella (www.ATU2.com)

Bono’s Prophetic Vox 
Scott Calhoun (www.ATU2.com, 2006)

Fresh Translations of the Psalms

Music of the Heart: New Psalms in the Celtic Tradition
David Adam (Spck, 2004)

The Message: Psalms
Eugene Peterson (NavPress, 1994)

Psalms (Pocket Book Canon)
Introduction by Bono (Canongate Books, 1999)

Voicing God’s Psalms
Calvin Seerveld (Eerdmans, 2005)

Psalms and Worship

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship
Martin Tel (Brazos Press 2012)

This Far by Faith: An African American Resources for Worship
(Augsburg Press, 1999)

The Anglican Chant Psalter
Alec Wyton (Church Publishing, 1987)

¡Grita de Alegría! Salmos para el año liturgico
Carlos Rosas (OCP, 2012)

Chant from the Hermitage: A Psalter
John Michael Talbot (Troubadour for the Lord Music, 1900)

The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship: A Brief Introduction and Guide to Resources
John Witvliet (Eerdmans, 2007)

Psalms and Justice

Reading the Bible with the Damned
Bob Ekblad (Westminster John Knox, 2005)

The Psalms as Christian Lament
Bruce Waltke and James Houston (Eerdmans, 2010)

The Green Psalter: Resources for an Ecological Spirituality
Arthur Walker-Jones (Fortress Press, 2009)

Psalms of Lament
Ann Weems (Westminster John Knox Press, 1999)

Psalms and Poetry

The Art of Biblical Poetry
Robert Alter (Basic Books, 2011)

The Unpublished Poetry of Charles Wesley
T. Kimbrough Jr. (Kingswood Books, 1990)

The Great Poems of the Bible: A Reader’s Companion with New Translations
James Kugel (Free Press, 2008)

Dead Men’s Praise
Jacqueline Osherow (Grove Press, 1999)

The Psalms for Small Group Study

Psalms: Managing Our Emotions
Christianity Today (2015)

Christ in the Psalms
Patrick Henry Reardon (Conciliar Press 2000)

Psalms: A 12 Week Study
Douglas Sean O’Donnell (Crossway, 2014)

The Spirituality of the Psalms
Carroll Stuhlmueller (Liturgical Press, 2002)

Biblical and Theological Perspectives on the Psalms

Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsberg Fortress, 1974)

Journey Through the Psalms
Denise Dombkowski Hopkins (Chalice Press, 2002)

The Psalms: volumes 1-3
John Goldingay (Baker Academic, 2002)

The Psalms Through Three Thousand Years
William Holladay (Augsburg Fortress , 1996)

A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah
Clinton Jr. McCann (Abingdon Press, 1993)

The Psalms in Israel’s Worship
Sigmund Mowinckel (Eerdmans, 2004)

The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential
N. T. Wright (HarperOne, 2013)

The Psalms and the Visual Arts

Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor
William Brown (Westminster John Knox Press, 2002)

Songs of Ascents
Aaron Collier (2007)

“Psalms,” The Saint John’s Bible
Donald Jackson (Illustrated Edition, 2005)

Seeing a New Song: Painting the Psalms Connection
Anneke Kaai and Eugene Peterson (Piquant Editions, 2008)

Worshiping with the Psalms Through the Church Year

Psalms for Advent
Jacob Tilton (2013)

“Psalm 126,” He will Not Cry Out, Anthology of Hymns and Spiritual Songs
Bifrost Arts Music (2013)

Holy Week Devotional through the Psalms of Ascents
Cardiphonia (2010)

Hallel Psalms Compilation
Cardiphonia (2013)

The Psalms and Contemporary Music

The Prayerbook Project
Brian Moss (2008-current)
+ Piano based contemporary renderings of the Psalms from pastor-poet

Sandra McCracken (2015)
+ A Nashville singer-songwriter writing devotional meditations on the Psalms. A few certainly useable by congregations.

The Songs from the Psalter
Cardiphonia (2015)
+ A crowd-sourced effort by worship songwriters to provide a variety of approaches to singing the psalms in the modern church. Largely in the folk rock vein.

Psalm 1
Joel Limpic (2014)
+ Worship Pastor at Park Church in Denver, CO. Working on writing songs based in a word-for-word rendition of the ESV.

The Psalms
Robbie Seay (2014)
+ A popular contemporary worship songwriter who is exploring the psalms in word for word versions

Loud Harp (2014)
+ Some ambient folk-pop meditations on the themes of the psalms.

From The River to the Ends of the Earth
Matt Searles (2013)
+ Original songs treating whole psalms for the contemporary church from a folk-rock idiom.

Psalms EP
The Gathering Sound Collective (2014)
+ A group of recent graduates from Kuyper College (Grand Rapids, MI) writing excellent versions of thePsalms.

Intown Psalms
Intown Music (2004).
+ A collection of largely retuned psalter texts from Matthew Curl and the musicians of Intown Presbyterian Church in Portland, OR.

Psalterium Vol. 1
Desert Springs Church (2011)
+ A church in Albuquerque, NM committed to writing and recording original versions of the Psalms.

Highways in Our Hearts
The Psalter Project (2014)
+ Ongoing project from producer Emily Moore seeking to reintroduce the Psalms into the church, with a few Indelible Grace contributors.

The Sons of Korah
+ A long term project from Australia band putting the Psalms word for word into music.

Psalms Vol. 1 Songs of the Forgotten
Garden City Project (2015)

The Psalm Project
+ A group of musicians from the Netherlands producing contemporary arrangement’s of the Psalms based on the old Genevan tunes.

Sing a Psalm
Jeremy Mayfield
+ Short responsorial songs written in a folky vein for the liturgical needs of the Anglican and Catholic traditions.

By the Streams
Jonathan Orden (2015)
+ Independent musician from the UK recording songs based in the Psalms.

Love and Fear
Worship at Pacific Crossroads Church (2014)
+ Album of contemporary worship songs inspired by the Psalms.

Originally posted here: https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/resources-exploring-psalms/

Ways to Help

Dear church family,

The needs surrounding Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma persist, and there are many ways to help.  Here are some suggestions:

May we continue to bear one another's burdens, both locally and nationally, as Jesus calls us to do.



Books on the Psalms

There is a wealth of literature to help us study and pray the Psalms. Several of us at FPC are reading A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, but all of these are great resources!

A Prayer

Dear God,

I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me push myself aside. 


- Flannery O'Connor, "A Prayer Journal"

P.S. -- Click here to read Annie Dillard's classic essay, "Total Eclipse" 


A prayer in light of recent events in Charlottesville, VA

God of justice, who sees into the hearts of all,

    your Light outshines the feeble flicker of the torches of hatred

    your goodness is greater than evil,

    your love compels us to break the silence, to speak the truth

    and to confess our sin.

With the prophet Isaiah we cry out—

    “Woe is me, for I am lost!

     For I have unclean lips

     And dwell among a people of unclean lips.”

In the face of this continuing unraveling of the fabric of our common life

May our ears be closed to the ugly diatribes of racists and the weak excuses of the fearful

May we have ears to hear the stories of our neighbors of color

       the respect to wait and listen as each story is told in its own voice

May we find the courage to acknowledge our privilege

     and our complicity in the evils of racism,

     and not to cease our striving for equality until justice rolls down like waters.

Our shoulders are bowed beneath the weight of our sorrow,

Our hands reach out to grasp a justice that seems illusory

Our hearts cry for a peace that seems so far off.

Our voices are hoarse, thick with tears,

as we pray for a way forward for all of your children

A way beyond racism and violence and privilege

For the courage to change our selves and our land

For faith and action that can bind us together.

We pray for our neighbors in Charlottesville— a city set on a hill

   grateful for their solidarity and courage in the face of evil

For neighbors of every race, and people of all professions

  as they gathered this day to rebuke the powers of evil

 We pray for comfort for families that now grieve unbearable losses

  For individuals who are wounded and broken in body or spirit

May your Spirit rise with healing in its wings

    and bring strength and wholeness to each.


We pray for ourselves, that this hurt will not fade from our minds

    before our hearts are broken open with Your passion for justice, mercy and love.

 Show up among us in our cities, our neighbors, and our wary, worried hearts

A Stranger without privilege or place

A Justice beyond hope

A Peace that passes understanding--Emmanuel, God with us.

In the name of your broken and resurrected son Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Laurie A. Kraus, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

The Image of Love

James 2:8 talks about the "royal law," loving your neighbor as yourself.  In my sermon today, I (Blake) used the example of the Atlas Abbey of Tibhirine in Algeria, where seven monks were murdered during the Algerian Civil War.  Here is what one of the monks, Brother Luc, wrote to a friend before he died:

We can only exist as men if we willingly become the image of love, as manifested in Christ, who, though innocent, chose to suffer the fate of the unjust.

There is also powerful film based on these events called Of Gods & Men.  Watch the trailer below: