As You Read: Week 3 Sin

As You Read this week, you might recall how some preachers or talk show hosts or protesters at funerals will talk about sin. “Some particular kind of people sinned some particular kind of sin and that’s why this hurricane roared through New Orleans or Houston or Indonesia or wherever.”

Mid Atlantic Coast Prepares For Hurricane Sandy...AT SEA - OCTOBER 28: In this handout satellite image provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Sandy, pictured at 00:15 UTC, churns off the east coast on October 28, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean. Sandy which has already claimed over 50 lives in the Caribbean is predicted to bring heavy winds and floodwaters to the mid-atlantic region. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)

Religious communities have never had a shortage of people who will hurt our ears with their self-righteous judgments about other people’s sins and their consequences.

As You Read Genesis 3-11, you will notice how these stories seem to be set out of time. When we start with Abraham and the Patriarchs next week, we will see geographies and genealogies and will recognize that the telling of those stories are more history-like. But the opening chapters of Genesis tell us primeval mythological stories of origins.

“Mythological” is not a put down. Myth is one way to speak about things that are deeply true even if they are not factual or historical. Consider this description from Britannica:

Myth has existed in every society. Indeed, it would seem to be a basic constituent of human culture … A people’s myths reflect, express, and explore the people’s self-image. The study of myth is thus of central importance in the study both of individual societies and of human culture as a whole.

In recent years, Joseph Campbell has taught and written extensively about the power of myth. Myths are the stories we tell that help us to understand where we come from and what is the meaning of our existence. All of our religions include this type of narrative as a way to point toward deep truth that is unspeakable and unknowable.


Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically.  But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.”

Modern American Christianity has its own special kind of challenges when it comes to getting “stuck” in metaphor. When we allow ourselves to get unstuck, to break free from literal, concrete thinking, then we begin to discover truth that is wider, deeper and higher than simple facts. If you are interested, you might spend some time watching Bill Moyers’ interview of Joseph Campbell.

As You Read Psalms 5, 10, 14 and compare these Psalms to the opening chapters of Romans, you will recognize how Paul’s treatise on sin echoes the Psalmist’s powerful descriptions. Also note that the consequences of the sins of some people will always infect and influence the lives of other people. We who are bound together within this human community live in a complex inter-dependence that has very real consequences in lives other than our own.

As You Read Romans 1-3, understand that Paul is re-telling the story of humanity. See how he alludes to good creation and a generous Creator. Then he considers how sin twisted and bent this goodness into something ugly and hopeless. In the background of Romans 1-3 hovers the Genesis 3 story. Paul was immersed in The Story and writes the letter to the Romans in order to explore and explain how God – through the Christ – is in the process of redeeming the brokenness and hopelessness of all creation.

Paul cites the Psalms and Prophets freely, mixing and matching their colorful phrases with his own understanding of sin and its consequences. He pounds the pagan Gentiles for their immoral, unethical, idolatrous culture. But then he turns and pounds the Jews for their self-righteousness and hypocrisy. All of us are sinners, Paul announces. Each of us individually and all of us together. Naming, recognizing, owning up to this hopeless dilemma is the only way for us to truly appreciate the radical grace of the gospel made known in Jesus Christ.


As You Read John 9-12, you may already know that those little chapter and verse numbers were added to our Bibles many years after the authors wrote. But what you may not know is that the New Testament writers penned their gospels and letters without any punctuation marks. So when we read the Greek text, we do the best we can to translate and interpret where the sentences and paragraphs ought to begin and end.

John 9:3-4 shows us how significant this challenge is. “Who sinned?” the disciples ask and Jesus answers: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him; we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day…” That’s the way the translators of the New Revised Standard Version place the markings (the markings, remember, that are not really there.)

Now – read these same words this way as an alternative: Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. He was born blind. (period) So that God’s works might be revealed in him, (comma) we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day…”

What a significant shift in meaning can happen when periods and commas are used one way or another!

We all live in The Story that tells of blindness, brokenness and sorrow. But we must never lose sight of the deeper truth: The Story of God’s presence in the world gives witness to the unfailing, unending work of light, redemption and grace. Each of us individually and all of us together are called to participate in that divine work.

Satellite photo by NASA via Getty Images

Greek text above cites John 3:16.

Sin: the lost language of salvation

I borrowed this title from Barbara Brown Taylor. It’s her way of talking about sin in her fine little book, Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation.

In these helpful essays, Brown Taylor explores the scriptural models and traditional Christian theology that frequently use medical or legal language to describe sin. If we think of sin as sickness then its solution is a healing. If we think of sin as crime then its solution is a punishment. But in her effort to recover “the lost language of salvation,” Taylor prefers a third way that acknowledges the core problem is broken relationship.

“In theological language, the choice to remain in wrecked relationship
with God and other human beings
is called sin.
The choice to enter into the process of repair
is called repentance,
an often bitter medicine with the undisputed power to save lives.”

The powerful story of Les Misérables demonstrates this “bitter medicine with power to save lives” just about as well as any story I’ve ever read.

In the past 25 years since the musical has been on the stage, 60 million people have experienced the Gospel according to Victor Hugo. It is gospel. While the story breaks your heart with its dark picture of human brokenness, the gospel breaks our hearts wide open with its promise of unlikely redemption and amazing grace.

Continue reading “Sin: the lost language of salvation”

Psalm 104

You are wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent.
You set the beams of your chambers on the waters.
You make the clouds your chariot and ride on the wings of the wind,
You make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.

You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.

How lovely is this!

Psalm 104 celebrates both creation and the Creator. As the Genesis stories affirm, creation is “good,” the gift of a good and merciful Creator. Both Psalm 104 and Genesis 1 picture the Creator as existing outside the cosmos, bringing all things good into being. Like a poet or an artist or a sculptor – not as a part of creation but as its creative source and originator.

And yet, at the same time, both Psalm 104 and Genesis 2 picture the Creator as intimate with all that is created. In the second Genesis story, God molds the human from the humus of the earth, breathes the breath of life into its nostrils then walks with the man and the woman in the cool of the evening. In this Psalm, God rides on the wind, cavorts with Leviathan and feeds all the creatures from a benevolent hand.

Continue reading “Psalm 104”

As You Read: Week 2 Creation

As You Read this week, watch for the confession that God is Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer of all-that-is. Watch for the confession of Israel and Christianity that all-that-is IS good. It was only later in Christian theology that flesh took on a negative connotation; Platonic philosophy and Greek thought taught this dualism: Flesh is ‘bad’ v. Spirit is ‘good.’ The witness of Scripture, however, honors the inherent goodness of the Creation. (In Scripture it is never “nature” or the “environment; it is “Creation” created by the Creator.)

As You Read Genesis 1 and 2, watch for the differences in the two Creation stories; they are different from each other by design. Note how God’s name is different, the order of creation is different, the theology is different. Some students of the Bible are troubled by these seeming contradictions, but when we read the stories side by side—not as scientific reports but rather as theological reflections—then we recognize the beauty of the diverse poetic ways that Genesis describes the Beginnings. (Also note the word play: genesis, generate, beginnings…Watch too for the differences in the two stories of the beginnings of the humans. This is rich; I once spent months studying just these two chapters and it completely changed my understanding of how men and women relate appropriately to one another – in the home, in society and in the church. In the first story, there is no hint of patriarchy or hierarchy; the man and woman are created at the same time and given equal responsibility for the care of the Garden. In the second story, man is created and later woman is shaped from a bone out of his side and then presented to the man as “helper;” the context still suggests equality.

It’s hard to see the Hebrew word plays when we read chapter 2 in English, but recognizing the puns gives the story whole new meaning.

Continue reading “As You Read: Week 2 Creation”

Cosmic Creating Christ

One of my favorite poems is James Weldon Johnson’s The Creation. Here is a lovely way to begin Week 2 of Living in The Story.

And God stepped out on space,

And He looked around and said,

“I’m lonely —

I’ll make me a world.”

As far as the eye of God could see

Darkness covered everything,

Blacker than a hundred midnights

Down in a cypress swamp.

Then God smiled,

And the light broke,

And the darkness rolled up on one side,

And the light stood shining on the other,

And God said, “That’s good!”


And [then, this] great God Almighty

Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,

Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,

Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;


This Great God, like a mammy bending over her baby,

Kneeled down in the dust

Toiling over a lump of clay

Till He shaped it in His own image;

Then into it God blew the breath of life,

And man became a living soul.

Amen. Amen.

Sometimes I feel sorry for people who try to turn the wide, wonderful creation stories into small sterile science texts. It’s so obvious that the stories in Genesis 1 and 2 are poetry – poetry in the very best sense of the word. This kind of poetic drama makes the story so much bigger, tells the story so much truer than any other literary form, because we can find here deep, profound truth about who we are and about who God is; truth about the eternal God who is outside of time but who is ever breaking into time, ever breaking into our lives in unexpected places, in unexpected ways.

Continue reading “Cosmic Creating Christ”

Psalm 119

The ancient Hebrew tradition says God spoke to Moses in fire and cloud on the mountaintop and wrote “the ten words” with the Divine Finger.

Torah. The Law. The Word of the Lord. The ordinances. The statutes. The precepts.

Psalm 119 celebrates the Law of the LORD.

Happy are those who walk in the law of the LORD. (Psalm 119:1)

The Way.

I run the way of your commandments,
for you enlarge my understanding. (Psalm 119:32)

There is one way that is God’s way that provides “a large space” in which to dwell and the “liberty” to journey to our true humanity.

This Way is “right” and “true” and “good.”

Other ancient traditions have held similar understandings. 600 years before Christ, the philosophy of The Tao developed in China.

This “tao” literally means “way” “path” “road.” There is a way within the cosmos, way of perfect balance; the natural order of things, the foundation of the universe.

The Great Way. Think of Torah, Law, Word within this framework.

Think of faith as trust in this Way and submission to this Law.

We begin with faith.

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Hebrew Psalter. The length comes from its form: it is composed as an acrostic based on the Hebrew alphabet.

In the first stanza, each line begins with the letter “aleph.” Each line of the second stanza begins with the letter “bet.” And so on. (Get it? alpha-bet!)

The poets of Israel believed that in all of life – from “A” to “Z” – the Way of God is ordered and trustworthy; that creation is “good;” that light and darkness exist in perfect harmony.

The teachers of Israel taught that the whole of life is founded upon trust in the Law of the Lord. They believed that every challenge of life can be overcome by faithful obedience to God’s Word.; that true life, right life, good life comes not through the mindless obedience to rules, but rather through the grace and mercy of Yahweh who sustains all creation.

Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
for your law is my delight. (Psalm 119:77)

We begin with faith in THIS God.


Feature image courtesy of

As You Read. Week 1

Living in The Story Week 1 begins our year of reading the Bible by looking at the big picture: considering the nature of Scripture. Charlotte asks the question: “what kind of book is the Bible?” and you are invited to ponder that question as you read this week.

What is your basic understanding of where the Bible comes from and how it functions? How were you taught or what did you absorb as you were growing up? How have you changed your views over the years? What questions have shifted your thinking?

Anaïs Nin has said: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” This is important. We all interpret. We all interpret everything.


There is no such thing as uninterpreted awareness.

We all have a lens through which we see the world. We all have a framework with which we make meaning.

This is as true of the biblical writers as it is true of us readers. The authors of these ancient texts began with faith. They started with a confidence that God was somehow in their story and as they collected and recollected the stories of their life together as God’s people, they sought to understand its meaning. The biblical writers are not, for the most part, apologists – arguing for their faith in a way that was designed to convince nonbelievers. Rather their writings were intended to confess their faith within a community of faith.

As You Read Deuteronomy 6-8

This week’s readings from Deuteronomy are key for the self-understanding of God’s ancient people, Israel. Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Torah, traditionally and poetically called “the books of Moses.” The stage is set at the River Jordan as the descendants of Jacob recall their recent liberation from bondage in Egypt and their forty years in the wilderness. Moses is the revered leader, calling them to remember God’s past faithfulness and urging them to entrust themselves to God’s ongoing fidelity.

But consider that the actual historical setting of the story of Deuteronomy is probably juxtaposed within the setting of Israel’s current dilemma centuries later in 597 BC. During the time of Deuteronomy‘s composition, the nation was once more in exile, this time in Babylon. God’s people were seeing their past history through the lens of their current captivity and recognizing they were standing on a precipice.

Either they will learn from this experience. Or they will be lost.

So Moses’ challenge to their ancestors to “hear” – to remember, recall, take heed, obey – is a current word for Israel: Love God, the One God, God Alone – this is everything.

All the rules of the Law – all the codes and commandments and ethics and devotion – everything that is written designed to shape them for love.

As You Read Psalm 119


As you are reading this week’s psalm, consider its form as well as its message. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and it is written in a familiar Hebrew poetic acrostic. This long hymn is shaped according to the Hebrew alphabet: the first stanza begins with aleph, the second stanza begins with bet and so on. The singer/ psalmist waxes eloquent about God’s Law in an alphabetical cadence.

Notice all the different words used by the psalmist to describe God’s way. I would add one more: the Tao.

Other ancient wisdom from numerous wisdom traditions speaks of A Way that is The Way of the cosmos. A Way that flows from the unity of all things, that lives in harmony with all creation, that coincides with the core Truth that binds the universe together.

The Psalmist is steeped in the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law handed down from Mount Sinai and revered as God’s definitive word for God’s chosen people. Much of this Law was shaped by the culture of the people, the times in which they lived and their own unique circumstances. But the Psalmist also seems to sing in celebration of the Way, the Tao, the Word that spoke the world into existence and continues to sustain the world by its power. A Law, a Truth, a Way that binds all things together. The Psalmist seems to begin with faith that this kind of Truth is the foundation upon which all other just laws are founded.

As You Read the John 5

As we read chapter five of the Gospel of John, we see John’s Jesus countering religious leaders who have lost the sense of this Overarching Way and have limited themselves to the smaller ways of codes and rituals. It appears as if they are literalist followers of the Law of Moses: toeing lines, dotting i’s, crossing t’s, scoring points. Jesus, however, challenges this lesser way of reading Scripture.

“Moses wrote about me,” John’s Jesus claims. Writing at the close of the 1st century, maybe 70 years after Jesus, John offers an intriguing interpretation of God made known in Jesus Christ. For John, Jesus IS “the Word made flesh” (1:14). For John, Jesus IS the holy Temple where God’s glory resides (2:18-22). For John, Jesus IS God’s Way/Truth/Life embodied (14:6).

John and the other New Testament theologians make an astounding claim: it is not a book, a Bible, a Scripture – no matter how holy – that is God’s eternal Truth. It is a person. One particular person in one unique way in history embodies God’s Way.

As You Read Second Timothy 3

We know Timothy was a student of the Apostle Paul and probably these letters of Timothy were written in Paul’s name by second generation disciples. It was nearly 100 years post-Jesus and the Church was mushrooming all across the Roman Empire. The original Christians were all Jews, but as the movement spread, many Gentiles, non-Jews, came to claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior.


There was no New Testament during this time. There was only the Hebrew Scripture and other writings, numerous letters and various gospels. So the exhortation of Timothy to continue in “the sacred writings” was a call to honor the tradition of these ancient texts. “All scripture is inspired by God…” has to mean the Scriptures of the Hebrew people. “All scripture is inspired by God…” has to mean that God’s Breath, Life, Presence, Word – somehow, in some mystery – can be encountered within these very human words.

Within the Christian tradition that has followed from Paul and John and Timothy, we continue to acknowledge the wisdom of Scripture that can and does “instruct, teach, reprove, correct, train, equip…”

But even as Christians revere and respect the Holy Scriptures, Christians will only worship and follow the One to Whom our Bible gives witness: Jesus, the Word made flesh who continues to dwell among us.

We Begin with Faith

When I was a girl, I didn’t know how to read the Bible. The truth is: sometimes I still don’t know.

What kind of book is it anyway? Is it a rulebook? A history book? Is it a book filled with interesting stories with moral lessons? Or a collection of fantastic stories that don’t seem to have much connection to our modern day world?

Was the Bible somehow dictated directly by God and given to the church as something to be revered? Did the Spirit speak so clearly to holy men of God that they wrote down everything perfectly whether they understood what they were writing or not? Did they write for their time? Or for all times?

Lots of people over lots of years have asked lots of questions about the nature of this beautiful, odd, comforting, disturbing book the church calls its “Holy Scripture.”


In my own journey with the Bible, it was only when I finally did the hard work of asking hard questions and even arguing with the texts that Scripture was  transformed for me into a symphony of polyphonic voices; into a masterpiece work of art that painted an alternative vision of the world; into a complex novel-like story unavoidably embedded in its own culture and time – and yet, somehow, in some mystery – able to give witness to the God beyond history who has acted (and continues to act) within history.


Sometimes when I deal with Scripture, I feel like I’m sailing a vast ocean; the wideness of it makes me suck in my breath. Then I put on my snorkel gear and plunge beneath the surface; its immense, colorful world opens up before me and I am astounded. Then I put on my scuba gear and dive even deeper; its mystery goes on forever.

Sometimes I think of Scripture as a conversation with a dear friend where I am invited to listen to the story of another. I listen respectfully to a point of view that may be different from mine. I listen carefully because we come from very different places. I listen to more than just the words because often we need to listen beneath the words, beyond the words; to listen not just to what this one is saying, but listening for what it means.  And sometimes in this conversation, I argue. (Respectfully, of course. This is a friend, after all!) But I know I don’t have to absolutely agree with every single thing I read here.

When I’m in this kind of conversation with Scripture, I find everything works better when I begin with trust. When I am able to place myself into a listening space and open my ears to hear whatever it may want to say to me; when I can open my eyes to see what it needs to show me. Whenever we read the Bible, trusting that somehow God is in this event of Scripture, trusting that this really does matter, trusting that, in these ancient words, a true and eternal Word is still being spoken – then we begin with faith. We begin as the church has always begun: trusting that “in the reading of Scripture, the Creator is at work, something is made out of nothing, the church takes form around the words of the Word” (William Willimon, 198).

Centuries ago, the great saint Anselm said: credo ut intellegam – “I believe so that I may understand.” Contrary to our modern conventional wisdom that “seeing is believing,” the church has long recognized that understanding, knowing, comprehending the presence of God can never be a matter of evidences or proofs. Knowing God has always been a matter of the heart. It is only in the knowing of the heart, trusting in the spirit, opening ourselves up to the listening space, the waiting place that we can ever hope to understand the least little thing about God and God’s way.

We begin with faith.

We begin by opening ourselves to the possibility that – even in these often odd, time-bound, culture-bound words – the Living Word of the Living God just may show up. It is our faith – and the faith of the church across the ages – that moves us to suspend our disbelief and to let ourselves trust that the eternal God just may meet us here.

When I say “we begin with faith,” I don’t mean we have to believe that every history-like story can be fact checked or that every miracle story has some relationship with our modern day scientific method. When I say “we begin with faith,” I don’t mean we have to believe that God himself is the author of this book we call the Bible.

But what I do mean when I say “we begin with faith” is that we begin by entrusting ourselves to the One whom we confess to be the author of THE Story; the story of the cosmos, the only story that matters. And we trust that this One has written US into That Story so that, consequently, our lives matter. Our lives matter a great deal!

We begin with faith that this inscribed text can translate into human lives. We begin with faith that this story is now written, not with ink but with the Holy Spirit; not on stone tablets, but now on the vast multitude of pages that are all of our very human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:3).

As William Willimon says:

Scripture does not just want to recreate some world of the past, but rather wants to form a new world in the present – to recreate US. We call the Bible ‘inspired’ because the Bible keeps reaching out to us, keeps striking us with its strange truth, keeps truthfully depicting God … We trust the Bible because on enough days we discover that God’s Word has the power to produce the readers that it requires. When the authority of the Bible is challenged with: ‘Is the Bible true?’ we are not to trot out our little arguments but rather [we are expected to trot out] our little lives.

The truthfulness of Scripture is in the lives it is able to produce.


When we stand with Israel on the banks of the Promised Land, we stand in the faith that we too are living in This Same Story. As they were liberated from slavery in Egypt, as they were saved from Exile in Babylon – so we too recognize all of our own exiles and all of our own salvations. We come to understand how we too – and too many others all around us – desperately need liberation from all the Pharoahs and all the powers that alienate and estrange and oppress.

And when we understand that need, when we name our own helplessness, we hear again the call to shape our lives around the one God who is to be our only God. We hear again the one core commandment to love this God with all that we are and with all that we have: “with heart and soul and might” (Deuteronomy 6).

When we sing the Great Psalm with the ancient Psalmist, we learn how to name our passion, how to speak boldly our yearning for God’s way, for God’s life (Psalm 119).

When we sit at the feet of Paul and Timothy, we remember the wisdom of submitting ourselves to these sacred writings, to this holy Scripture that is inspired to teach and reprove, to correct and train, to equip and prepare God’s people to do good works; to do God’s work in our world (2 Timothy 3).

When we stand with the Pharisees in John and identify with all the ways we too, misuse and abuse Scripture to prove our little points, to serve our petty agendas, to endorse the visions of our own imaginations, then we are confronted with the Word of the living Christ.

And when we stand before this Word made flesh, when we are honest and bold to open ourselves to really hear and truly see – then we will find life.  Real life, true life, eternal life here and now.

“Bending our lives toward the text that is ever reaching out to us, the church is forever formed and reformed…”

Will Willimon reminds us. (126)

I invite you to join me, to Live in The Story. Let uss move out of the shallows and dive deeper into the vast ocean of the Word so we can marvel at all the wonders hidden there for us. Let us “gather around the words of Scripture with the expectation that these words will become for us the Word of God Incarnate.” (Willimon)

And as we read, may we be created and recreated, formed and reformed and ever transformed into the image of the Christ whose Word dwells richly within us and among us.

Living in The Story readings for Week 1: We Begin with Faith

Deuteronomy 6-8

Psalm 119

2 Timothy 3

John 5

William H. Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002).

Welcome to Living in The Story 2019

A new year creates a natural opportunity to begin new efforts and explore new directions. If reading the Bible and trying to understand it better has ever been an effort or exploration you have pondered, now is a good time to give it a try.

And Living in The Story is a good tool to guide you.

Charlotte Coyle created this read-and-blog-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan while she was doing doctoral studies at Brite Divinity School. It’s a new kind of Bible reading plan; quite different from most plans that begin in Genesis, slog through the prophets, rush through the Gospels and end in Revelation.

Instead, Living in The Story allows us to follow the biblical story across the breadth of Scripture, across the ages. Each week, the readings take us from the Old Testament, into the Psalms, across to the Gospels and on to the Epistles. We see some of the same connections within The Story some of the biblical theologians saw. And we can consider how This Story connects with our own stories in our own time and place.

I chose this image because it helps me imagine these many connections and intersections. 

Charlotte’s blogs give you background and insight as you read. Each week, she offers two or three short essays that give you different perspectives on the readings and how this ancient-yet-ever-new-text can continue to provide wisdom, comfort, courage and challenge for our own day.

When you subscribe to Living in The Story, you will receive two or three emails each week guiding you through the process throughout the year.  You will have Charlotte’s blogs in your inbox along with scripture links directing you to the online Gateway Bible: Everything together in one place so you can choose how and when you read as you go along.

Some people read only the Psalms every week; some only the Gospels. Some use this opportunity to read through the Old Testament with Charlotte’s blogs helping them make some sense. Some people read every scripture every week – for awhile. And then, after a break, they find their second wind and begin again wherever we are. Some people get all the way through the entire Bible in a year. 

It’s not hard. It’s guilt-free. Living in The Story will be sitting right there in your inbox, ready when you are. 

It’s good to take time each day, each week to allow ourselves to be formed and transformed by the Christ who is the Living Word speaking to us through these words of Scripture.

I invite you to give it a try. For one year. For one month. This is a good time to begin a new effort and explore a new direction. And I invite you to join me in conversation about what we are seeing as we take this journey together.

Go to to subscribe.

Psalm 136

Psalm 136 combines praise and thanksgiving. 

O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever…

The refrain of praise repeats again and again: God’s steadfast love endures forever. Praise punctuates Thanksgiving.

There is a difference. Sometimes we praise the Lord for Who God Is. Sometimes we thank the Lord for what God does.

A core quality, a central characteristic of the Divine is Love. The Hebrew “steadfast love” can also read: “mercy or compassion.”

In the defining story of Israel’s birth as a people brought into being through the labor of Eternal Covenant God, there is an odd little tale of Moses meeting the One Who Cannot Be Seen and Is Beyond All Knowing. (Ex 34) Like his encounter at the bush that burned but was not consumed, Moses heard God’s Self-Description. “I Am” was the Name from the burning bush. “Compassion” was the Name from the cloud and fire on the mountaintop.

And God passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord , the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

This is Who God Is.

(Please do not buy into the mistaken notion that the God of the Old Testament was judgment while the God of the New Testament is grace. No! No! A thousand times No!)

Always and forever, God’s steadfast love endures. The psalmist praises God for Who God Is.

And – in tandem – he thanks God for the many great wonders God has done: The Lord made the heavens, stretched out the earth on the waters and created the great lights, one to rule the day and one to rule the night.

The Creator of heaven, earth and all the cosmos. The Lord of all the nations. The poet of history.

Then Israel’s poet thanks God for wonderful works on behalf of Israel.

God brought Israel out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm…

God divided the Red Sea while Israel passed through on dry land. While Pharaoh and his armies, God overthrew in that same sea.

God led Israel through the wilderness, protecting them, feeding them, guiding them. For Israel, God is a God who remembers, rescues and sustains.

God remembered us in our low estate,

for his steadfast love endures forever;

God rescued us from our foes,

for his steadfast love endures forever;

God gives food to all flesh,

for his steadfast love endures forever.

Forever and always, God is Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer. This is Who God Is. This is what God does.