The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

In the beginning … God said: Let there be light. And there was light. (Genesis 1).


The heavens are telling the glory of God; the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.

There is no speech; there are no words; and yet – their voice goes out throughout the earth, their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19).

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth … Where were you when all the morning stars sang together … ?!?!? (Job 38).

Sometimes the poetry of Scripture gives me chill bumps.

There is such beauty and mystery in these words; they draw me in and fill me up.

  • I smile.
  • I wonder.
  • I weep.
  • I furrow my brow and scratch my head.
  • I argue.
  • I wait.
  • I watch.
  • I listen.
Scripture is a vast ocean.

We can sail the seas of Scripture and rock gently in its waves one day and then we are holding on for dear life the next. Sometimes its waters are crystal clear and we see into depths we never imagined. Sometimes its ocean roils red or stretches out before us in inimaginable greens and blues and greys.


Some people don their snorkel gear and plunge in deeper; there are wonders to be found beneath the surface. Some people strap on air tanks and dive to the depths; there is always more to learn.

If you have been reading through the Bible with Living in The Story over the past 48 weeks, maybe you have experienced Scripture with fresh eyes. I hope you learned something new through your reading. I hope you caught a glimpse of its inexhaustible mysteries.

Throughout this project, I have tried to blog about these Scriptures in a way that helps us make more sense of this strange and wonderful book. Just maybe – through this experience – all of us are listening and learning and growing.

When I was preaching regularly on Sundays, we would hear the words of Scripture read to us and then the reader would say: the “Word of the Lord.” We dutifully responded: “Thanks be to God.”

But what are we saying with those words? What does it mean to say that this Bible is the “Word of the Lord?”

Some people believe it is the literal word of God: each and every word dictated and inspired by the Spirit so that it contains no errors or contradictions.

Some people believe it is a collection of stories and teachings; “just” stories (they say) but still within which some wisdom may be found.

Some think of it as a book of rules or as a manual for living.

Some see it as a history book. Some as a chronicle of predictions for our own day.

Some understand it to be an ancient story of another people in another time; interesting for its historical and archeological insights but not relevant for a modern world.

God is still speaking

When I was preaching regularly, I would stand in the pulpit and pray the same prayer Sunday after Sunday: “You have spoken to us once and for all in Jesus Christ and you continue to speak in these Holy Scriptures. Speak to us now, we pray….”

When I would read the text for the sermon, I would begin by saying: “Listen now for the Word of the Lord in this the Holy Scripture.”

So you might ask what I mean when say this Bible is the “Word of the Lord?” You might ask how I describe what it is I believe about this book we call the Holy Bible. Why do I call it “holy?”

The Scriptures are witness.

Followers of the one true God, over several millennia, have given witness to their experience with God. The Bible is the record of that evolving understanding and testimony to the variety of ways God’s people have found meaning and tried to live their lives with faith in the One Who Is beyond our knowing, the One beyond our grasping; the One Who Is.

Sometimes the stories record great unfaithfulness. (Yes, that is our sad human story.) Sometimes the stories show misunderstandings and sometimes great wisdom. (Yes, we humans are both very foolish and very wise.) Sometimes the stories tell of remarkable courage and goodness. (Yes, humans have a way of rising above adversity and responding to the challenges of life with tenacious faith and stubborn hope.)

Over the years, these writings have offered faithful witness to a people’s relationship with the God of their understanding. And so – over the years – these writings have become our sacred Scriptures: the “Holy” Bible giving witness to the holiness of living in the presence of a holy God.


The Old Testament together with the New Testament are the Scriptures of the Christian Church.

In order for the Church to be “Christian,” it must engage the Christian Scriptures.

By “engage” I mean – read, study, learn from, argue with, protest about, be shaped by, be challenged with, be spoken to and changed by this Holy Bible.

But the Scriptures are not only the witness of human beings.

Somehow, also, in some mystery, again and again, the God of all Creation speaks in and through these human words. “Speak to us now we pray, that we may know you…” Don’t ask me to explain that. Even so …

I have come to trust it without being able to explain it.

Trust it because we see evidence of God’s presence in our lives and in the world, and that evidence supports our confidence.

Trust it because we see how the Word of the Lord has created a people who are bound together over countless ages; who are bound together despite the differences that seek to divide us.

Trust it because a deep honest logic can see something deeply true about the witness of Scripture. But also because (as the mystics teach us) people of faith are able to see with our “third eye” – beyond logic. We can perceive God’s ever new presence, God’s call to new beginnings and God’s will and way for us today – even through such ancient, culture-bound, human words of Scripture.

The Word of the Lord

Evidence, experience, tradition, reason, community, intuitive knowing – they all come together to allow us to trust that somehow, in some mystery, again and again, the God of all Creation speaks in and through these human words.

So when I say: “the Word of the Lord; thanks be to God,” I am giving witness that I believe God is still speaking. I am giving witness that I believe the witness of Scripture can speak authentically in every age about who we are as humans. And about who God is as God.

But words are limited. And limiting.

Of course that “speaking” is not exhaustive. Human words are so limited and the words of the Bible are no exception.

There are just so many ways words can represent reality and all ways are always inadequate.

Human words are not things; words are symbols, pointers. They point beyond themselves to something else. The words of the Old Testament point to, direct us toward something in their future, while the words of the New Testament point to, direct us toward something in their past.

And what is this “thing” the words of Scripture point to? What is the point of this book we call the Bible?

In the beginning was the Word … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … and this Word is light and life to all people.

John 1

Christ: the crux, the hinge of history.

THE Word of the Lord! Thanks be to God!

Whether someone knows that or not, claims that or not, I believe God has spoken once and for all in Jesus Christ. And in Jesus Christ, God has spoken love and grace and welcome for ALL.

In this divine self-revelation, God has been unveiled, has emerged from the fire and cloud, has stepped out of the whirlwind, and said: “I Am.”

I Am …

  • in a manger in a cattle stall;
  • with a calloused hand and a carpenter’s saw;
  • reaching out to the lost and forsaken;
  • embracing the children;
  • feeding the hungry;
  • healing the sick;
  • washing dirty feet;
  • hanging on a cross.

This is Who I Am.

This is what love looks like and sounds like and acts like.

God’s Word made flesh.

And so now – here with this final Living in The Story blog –

I pray that we may have the power to comprehend…the breadth and length and height and depth of love, and to know the love of Christ that is beyond knowing…

Ephesians 3

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.


Living in The Story readings for Week 48 (our FINAL week! You DID it!)






Psalm 22

Psalm 102

Mark 15-16


“Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh, 1889.

Hand Image: Detail from “Crucifixion,” Matthias Grunewald, c 1515.

Justice, Kindness and Humility

The prophet Micah asks: What is it that God requires in order for us to be pleasing? In order to be acceptable? What does God want from us anyway?

Micah answers: This – do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?

Then why do we humans have such a hard time doing justice, being kind and living our lives with humility and reverance? What is so bent within us that these three simple things trip us up over and over again?


Martin Luther defined sin as “the self bent in upon itself.”

There is a bent-ness inherent about us, I think. There is a bent-ness that permeates the entire world.

Consequently we create societies that are curved in on themselves; a world that is very often unjust and unkind and arrogant.

Continue reading “Justice, Kindness and Humility”

Psalm 147

Praise the Lord!

How good it is to sing praises to our God for God is gracious! A song of praise is fitting …

Psalm 147 overflows with thanksgiving for the Lord of the cosmos Who is abundant in power with understanding beyond measure.

Within the context of Living in The Story, we consider Psalm 147 at the same time we see the remnant of exiles returning from Babylon to the Promised Land. Even as they came home to a devastated land and city, they chose to sing of the grace of Yahweh who once again kept covenant with Israel.

Continue reading “Psalm 147”

Ezra and Nehemiah

The Ezra-Nehemiah story is filled with intrigues, plots, gradual successes and witness to the difficult work of rebuilding.

Rebuilding not just a wall and a city but also restoring the religion and culture of a people who had lost their way over many generations.

Nehemiah’s first-person story (The “Nehemiah Memoir”) says he was cupbearer for King Artaxerxes living in the capitol city of the Persian Empire. He received this word about his countrymen who had remained in Jerusalem:

The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.

“When I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven…”

Nehemiah petitioned the king and was appointed governor of Judah with authority to rebuild the walls and bring order to the city. (The “cupbearer” – as attested throughout centuries of Persian history and legend – was generally a favorite and trusted youthful official.)

The challenges were many, as Nehemiah’s memoir describes. But finally came a day of re-dedication of the Temple when Ezra read the ancient and holy Law to the assembled people. The story says:

Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest/scribe…said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.”

For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 

Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Do not be grieved for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

Nehemiah and Ezra worked together alongside many persistently faithful Jews against the hardship and persecution that has characterized this people of God throughout many centuries.

Crusades, pogroms, Kristallnacht and Holocaust; private and public terrors – the history of the Jewish people continues to be woven marked with too many dark threads.

Because of this existential reality, Jews to this day summarize their history with this clever saying:

They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

Rebuilding a life takes a lifetime of work. For any of God’s people.

As I write this, sisters and brothers across the globe are faced with the deep challenges of rebuilding.

In 2017 a trio of hurricanes devastated parts of Texas, much of Florida and all of Puerto Rico. Raging fires destroyed forests, homes and businesses all along the West Coast. Back to back earthquakes shook the foundations of Mexico. Wars and violence in Syria, Central America, across the Middle East and Africa continue to force people from their homelands and exiled refugees live lives of chaotic uncertainty.

Even so, Ezra and Nehemiah remind us not to wait until everything is perfect and normal. In the midst of imperfect circumstances, people of faith and hope can still find joy and “peace that passes understanding.”

Pleasant circumstances may bring us a measure of happiness for a while. But it is the joy of the Lord that gives us strength to endure.

Living in The Story readings for Week 46


Psalm 10

Psalm 13

Psalm 17

Mark 11-12


See below some helpful information from the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally considered a single literary work called Ezra. Although this work was separated into two books by Origen (3d century Common Era) and Jerome (4th century C.E.), the division does not appear in Hebrew Bibles before the 15th century.

At the beginning (1:1–3) and end (6:22) of Ezra, the text asserts that Yahweh had brought about both the return of the exiles to Judah and Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple through the favorable actions of the Persian kings toward Israel. Cyrus’ own decree permitted the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of its vessels (6:5), and Darius reinforced these privileges and added to them a curse against any who would attempt to countermand them (6:6–12).

In the Ezra-Nehemiah chronicle, captives were released and sent back to their land with the looted treasures from Solomon’s Temple. The “Ezra Memoir” names Zerubbabel (called governor) and Jeshua the priest as the leaders of this initial effort of rebuilding.

The Persian authorization to rebuild includes not only the work on the Temple, fostered by Cyrus and Darius, but also, because of the mention of Artaxerxes in 6:14, the rebuilding of the walls as well (the term “house of God” in Ezra-Nehemiah may include both the temple and the refortification of the city).

According to the present text of Ezra-Nehemiah, Ezra came to Jerusalem in 458 B.C.E. (Ezra 7:7–8, the 7th year of Artaxerxes) and Nehemiah in 445 B.C.E. (Neh 1:1, the 20th year of Artaxerxes). Nehemiah’s first stay in Jerusalem lasted 12 years, to 433 B.C.E. (Neh 5:14), with a second stay at an unknown time and of unknown duration (but before the end of Artaxerxes’ reign in 424). In 445 Ezra read the law at a public ceremony at which Nehemiah was also present (v 9). All of these dates assume that the Artaxerxes to whose reign the chronology of both Ezra and Nehemiah is correlated is Artaxerxes I (465–424).

  • the dedication of the Temple in 515 B.C.E.,
  • the return of Ezra in 458 B.C.E.,
  • the governorship of Nehemiah, 445–433 B.C.E.,
  • and his second visit to Jerusalem, no later than 424 B.C.E.

Image from Aleppo, Syria by NBC News.

The Historical Settings of the Prophets of Israel

Years listed are B.C. Dates are approximate; scholars best guess
Information summarized from The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII

805Assyria defeats Damascus opening the way for a growing luxury class with economic and religious excessesJonah

745Political unrest in IsraelHosea
735Syro-Ephraimite WarIsaiah of Jerusalem
732Damascus destroyed by Assyria; Israel becomes a vassal stateMicah
689Babylon destroyed by Assyria
626Babylon gains freedom from Assyria;
Josiah’s ‘deuteronomic reform’
604Babylon controls Syria and PalestineNahum
598/597Babylonians besiege Jerusalem; first deportationEzekiel
587Jerusalem falls; second deportationObadiah
582/581King of Judah assassinated; third deportation
550Cyrus of Persia threatens Babylon
538Babylon surrenders to Persia; Edict of Cyrus allows first return of exiles led by Sheshbazzar. Temple rebuilding begins and then haltedSecond Isaiah
522King Darius of Persia
Temple rebuilding resumes
516/515Temple completed and rededicated
458Ezra travels to JerusalemMalachi
445Nehemiah travels to JerusalemJoel
333Conquests of Alexander the Great
175/164Rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanies and the Maccabean revoltDaniel

All Things New

A Reading from Revelation 21

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his people and God himself will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Then he said to me, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”

This glorious passage is most often used at funerals. As families gather around a loved one’s casket, these words point to a hopeful future; they whisper “reunion.”

Otherwise, mainline preachers mostly avoid the Revelation of Jesus to John. That is unfortunate.

Continue reading “All Things New”

Psalm 57

Be merciful to me, O God, for in you my soul takes refuge…

I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey;

their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords…

Psalm 57 couples with the stories and visions from the book of Daniel during this Living in The Story reading week. Although the traditional setting places it during the time of David’s trials, we also see Daniel in the poet’s cries of complaint and praise.

Continue reading “Psalm 57”

In the Lions’ Den

Have you ever been in a den of lions?

You are called in to your boss’s office and when you open the door, there is your department supervisor and the head of HR. It feels like you are walking in to a lions’ den.

You are sitting at your dining room table with bills piled high. There’s another stack of letters too: the eviction notice, the termination date, the warning that they will soon take the car back. You’re surrounded with troubles that are tearing you apart.

You are at the bedside of your loved one. The door opens and here comes your doctor and the consultant and the charge nurse and the chaplain. You know that life is about to close in on you.

You are in a church Board meeting and – out of the blue – people who love each other start clawing and tearing at each other. You can’t believe your ears. What could possibly be so important that Christian friends would devour each other? You wish an angel would show up and shut all their mouths.

Whatever the particular lions’ dens that have threatened you over the course of your life, whatever the details, we all can say we’ve been there, done that.

And I’m guessing – on the other side of all these troubles – many of us might say, like Daniel: “God saved me.”

Maybe God hasn’t saved us in exactly the same way, not in the way our storyteller describes – but somehow, in some mystery – we knew we were not alone.

We knew we found strength beyond our own strength, wisdom beyond our own wisdom, endurance that we never could have imagined.

And we know – God was somehow in it all, walking with us, carrying us, leading us, nudging us, protecting us.

Continue reading “In the Lions’ Den”

Visions, Parables and Poetry

The hand of the LORD came upon me. He brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.


And God said to me, “Mortal/son of man, can these bones live?”

Ezekiel 37
Dem bones

As African American slaves tilled the sandy soil of the South, they often sang spirituals taken from images of Scripture.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again,

Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again,

Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again,

Now hear the word of the Lord!

Can you imagine how dry the bones of these weary people must have felt? How hopeless their lives must have seemed?

But the vision of Ezekiel gave them hope: “these bones gonna rise again!” Maybe not here, maybe not now but someday.

It’s a similar kind of hope Ezekiel’s own nation of Israel held as they were captives in Babylon. Ezekiel’s Vision offered an alternative future.

“Can these bones live?” the Lord asked Ezekiel. “Lord, you know,” he tactfully replied.

And – Lord knows – Israel did return to their homeland to rebuild their holy city. The people came to life again.

Mark’s Christians. More dry bones

Centuries later, Mark’s Christians endured the assault of Rome upon that same holy land. Once again, the city was leveled and the Temple destroyed.

Jesus’ followers remembered that he had promised to come again; (now would be a good time, they must have been thinking.)

But – no – difficult times dragged on and on.

Hearing again the stories of Jesus, remembering how he taught that things come to fullness in their time; hoping again in the God whose ways may be hidden but who is ever at work in the most ordinary events of our lives: would they have the ears to hear and the eyes to see this grace?

Would they, too, hold on to hope?

Surely the words and experience of their ancestor, Ezekiel in Exile, helped them hold on.

Continue reading “Visions, Parables and Poetry”

Songs of Ascent

The songs of pious pilgrims are collected together in Psalms 120-134. These Songs of Ascent offer a glimpse into the ancient community of Israel: how faith and faithfulness infused their lives.

Songs of Ascent

Imagine pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. Imagine the gradual gathering of more and more travelers joining together as the roads drew closer to the Holy City. Imagine the final ascent up the hill of Zion where the Temple shone bright in the morning sun. Imagine the joy, the wonder and the deep sense of community these pilgrims must have experienced.

Now imagine them singing these psalms of ascent as they ascended toward Jerusalem, their shining city on a hill.

Ancient editors grouped the hymns into this collection near the end of Book Five toward the close of the psalter. They are short, easily memorized, often characterized by a call and response participation.

They sing of personal faith or family life or national pride.

And their pilgrim faith assumes God as the Source and Center of all.

The Ancient Feasts of Israel

Pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem for three holy feasts each year: in the spring and in the fall.

Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the festival of unleavened bread, at the festival of weeks, and at the festival of booths.

They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed; all shall give as they are able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.

Deuteronomy 16

Spring brought the most holy celebration of Passover, the remembrance of their rescue from slavery in Egypt. Exactly seven weeks later, the celebration of First Fruits reminded them of the grace of living in a settled homeland. Fall brought Sukkot, a re-enactment of their wilderness wanderings that brought back vivid recollections of the Lord’s meticulous faithfulness.

The pilgrims’ anticipation of these high holy days was amplified by sharing together these traveling psalms, the gathering hymns found in the Songs of Ascent.

Psalms scholar, J. Clinton McCann considers the purpose of the ancient editors as they formed this collection of hymns.

This collection was likely used by ordinary persons on the way to or on arrival at Jerusalem. The juxtaposition of psalms reflecting the daily concerns (Psalm 123-126; 130-132; 134) makes sense in the context of festal celebrations, where individuals and families from all over would have been brought together by loyalties that transcended the personal and familial.

Modern day Jews – sans the Temple, priesthood and sacrificial system – continue to celebrate these ancient feasts with notable theological and national enlargements.

Along with the biblical feasts, numerous other high holy days have developed over the centuries, festal celebrations “where individuals and families from all over [are] brought together by loyalties that transcend the personal and familial.”

Time honored traditions and purposes find fresh expression in new generations, thus accomplishing the hopes of pilgrims sung across many ages.