Fasting sometimes has the effect of exposing our sins and compulsions. As Richard Foster says: “More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us… We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.” I’ve never experienced it quite as dramatically as I have this year. I’m happy to receive the assurance of forgiveness in Psalm 32: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven… and in whose spirit is no deceit.”

My Lenten “give-ups” have been fairly traditional in the past [dessert, chocolate, etc.] and that continued this year; I decided to give up alcoholic beverages. I enjoy only a very occasional beer or glass of wine so it has been relatively easy thus far. What has been difficult is something I had to give up for health reasons. Two gallbladder attacks and a scheduled surgery after Easter have forced me to give up fat in my diet. I did not realize how hard it would be! My favourite foods are hamburgers & fries, tacos, and pizza [almost anything with ground beef and/or cheese]–the foods that are the highest in fat content. And almost everything is cooked with a bit of oil. A bit of fat-free alcohol might have provided some relief!

Although many people with allergies or intolerances have greater restrictions, it surprised me how irritated and angry I became over this as I stared longingly at what others were enjoying. Where did these feelings come from? Richard Foster answers: “At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us.” Ouch! Too personal! This fasting has exposed some latent underlying anger issues. It’s embarrassing to even mention it but hopefully my public confession will be therapeutic and freeing as the psalm says: “When I kept silent my bones wasted away… then I confessed my sin… and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” I do not want to be a person whose anger springs up at inopportune times and in inappropriate ways.



I believe in the kingdom come

Then all the colours will bleed into one

But yes I’m still running

You broke the bonds; You loosed the chains

You carried the cross and my shame

You know I believe it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

It is now 30 years ago when I first quoted that song in a sermon based on Psalm 27. It was my candidating sermon for my first full-time job as a youth pastor [I did get the job]. The sermon expressed my personal quest for a relationship with God that lay behind my desires for doing ministry.

Even though U2 has now played its 30th-anniversary-of-the-Joshua-Tree-album tour and I’m 57 instead of 27, one thing is still the same: I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. The song is now old, a classic we might say, and I’m getting there too! But the search, the quest… it is still ongoing.

Both the song and my experience are illustrations of this journey that never finds its fulfillment in this life. How do we develop a relationship with God in a world of broken relationships? Where do we find God in the midst of a world of ungodliness? How do we experience Transcendence in the bowels of ordinary day to day existence? That is the universal human quest.

Psalm 27 is a passionate poem about the ancient poet’s quest for God in the midst of daily life.

PS Psalms 27 is usually classified as a “mixed genre” Psalm which could point to its varied origin. Early in the 20th century the Psalms scholar Herman Gunkel began to categorize the Psalms according to genre: Lament, Song of Praise, Song of Thanksgiving, Enthronement Psalm, Wisdom Psalm, etc. You can find a document under the “Psalms Project” that lists the genres of all 150 Psalms. This categorization is not only for trivial scholarly purposes but helps us to understand its original liturgical purposes in the ancient worshiping community. Thus, tying us to generations of worshipers. Imagine, thousands of years of people who have spoken these same words as expressions to their God!

We spent the past week in Psalm 23. Any new insights from people in the Psalms project?

My earliest memory of the Psalms, even of all Scripture, is learning Psalm 24 in Daily Vacation Bible School [DVBS] held in the back room of the Anglican Church in my hometown of Wawanesa, MB. I remember enthusiastically repeating the call and response form of the Psalm.  “Who is this king of Glory? The Lord strong and mighty.” I also remember wondering and imagining how gates could have heads, “Lift up your heads, oh ye gates!” I guess as a six year old I did not yet understand metaphors. The Psalms still invite us to experience them rather then exegete them. What is your experience?

We read the Psalms at the family dinner table. After reading Psalm 22 for a few days our daughter remarked, “Finally!” as we got to the last stanza. Although the lament of 22 is appropriate for Lent, our reading schedule will now find us in 23 for a few days. Because this psalm is so familiar we will take it one line or verse at a time; hopefully we might see some things we have not seen before.

The myth that David wrote the psalms while sitting on a hill strumming his harp while the sheep are sleeping on a starlit night probably comes from the fact that Psalm 23 is the most familiar psalm of them all. It does deal with the imagery of a shepherd and sheep but it is actually one of the few mentions of this in the psalms. I will say more about authorship of the psalms in a later post but this week while we slowly make our way through Psalm 23 I would like to talk about our cultural distance from the origins of the Book of Psalms.

Before we get to the shepherd and the sheep, we need to recognize that the worldview of the psalmists is very different from our own. Basically, they viewed the world like a giant snow globe with the sky as the dome and the earth as a flat pancake held up by pillars. [See Psalm 104:1-5. This is why Copernicus and Galileo were heretics—they theorized that the Bible was wrong in the way it described the world. Today of course we accept their theory and most of us don’t use the Psalms or any part of the Bible as a science text book.] The ancient Hebrews also had no view of the afterlife; when people died they went to SHEOL which was literally the underworld often translated “the grave” in English translations. Any references in the Psalms that seem to speak about the afterlife [e.g. 73:24] can be attributed to readers and translators reading their modern Christian theology back into this ancient literature. The resurrection and the afterlife did not emerge as a common belief among the Jews until the third to second century BCE. We could mention a few other things such as the lack of a belief in Satan as a personality which also came later. And the frequent mention of enemies in the Psalms refer to actual physical enemies, not the spiritualized version we usually have. It is important to understand this cultural distance when we read the Psalms so that we experience the Psalms for what they are: endearing and enduring poetry that expresses the cries of humanity in their relation to God.

And then there are the sheep and the shepherds we encounter in the Psalm 23. In our urban western society we know absolutely nothing about the primary image used in this psalm unless you happened to live and work on a sheep ranch, then you might have a few clues. To those who used this Psalm in worship in the ancient middle-east the scenes of the Psalm would have been very familiar. The best resource I know of to help us understand the imagery of this beloved psalm is Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. Ironically, some of the theological language of this book is dated [published in 1970] but I think he can still help us to understand the world of shepherds and sheep which underlies this beloved psalm. Perhaps a brief excerpt from the book might help to rekindle our imaginations as we read the psalm this week. Here Keller is reflecting on the opening line: “The LORD is my shepherd.”

It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The behaviour of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways. Our mass mind (or mob instincts), our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance.

Yet despite these adverse characteristics [God] chooses us, buys us, calls us by name, makes us [God’s] own, and delights in caring for us.

In fact, Psalm 23 might well be called “David’s Hymn of Praise to Divine Diligence.” For the entire poem goes on to recount the manner in which the Good Shepherd spares no pains for the welfare of the sheep.


Jesus cried out with the words of Psalm 22:1 as he hung on the cross. Sometimes this has been used as a proof text for backing up the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. The Psalmist was not here prophesying that the Father would turn his back on his Son in divine wrath against the world’s sin he was carrying. No! God’s love [HESED] is steadfast, eternal, and unconditional—that is the central and oft repeated [The word HESED is used 125 times in the Psalms] message about the character of God in the Psalms and indeed in all of Scripture [See Romans 8:38-39]. God never turns the divine back on any part of creation and not on God’s own self. There was no conflict within the godhead; Jesus is praying a psalm.

The psalmist is feeling abandoned by God and this psalm was used by generations of suffering people who were crying out in the midst of their hour of need. Jesus was a Jew who knew his psalms well and his utterance of this psalm continues the usage of the Psalms as the prayers of God’s people. Jesus was crying out in his own hour of need along with his fellow sufferers before and after him. There is no theology of atonement here; there is simply a spirituality of the need to cry out to God when we are feeling abandoned and alone in our suffering. The nature of suffering is that we feel alone and want to be heard; the nature of healing is that it happens within the balm of a community of sufferers. The fact that God in flesh also cried out with the words of this psalm makes it all the more powerful a prayer.

As I read Psalm 19 I was reminded of my Introduction to Theology class I took almost 40 years ago at Steinbach Bible College. They told us that verses 1-6 were about “general revelation” available to all people through creation and verses 7-14 were about “special revelation” through the Law or the Scriptures which were seen as the higher form of revelation. I remember thinking at the time that this was an impressive observation by my professor but today as I read the psalm it seemed somewhat banal. Perhaps my memory was actually a hindrance to my hearing the psalm anew today since I already knew what it said. What was your experience with Psalm 19 or any other psalm you are reading this week?


It is an understatement to say that Psalm 18 is full of metaphors. The Psalms are poetry and poetry is marked by the ample use of metaphors. Metaphors are about relating one thing to another, a direct comparisons between unlike objects. Thinking metaphorically means making a comparison between two dissimilar things, one of which is better known than the other, and using the better known one as a way of speaking about the lesser known. In the case of Psalm 18, God is the lesser known and rock, horn, fire, thunder, etc. are the common objects and experiences of the hearers. Eugene Peterson says, “Metaphor uses the language of sense experience to lead us into the world of the unseen: faith, guilt, mind, God. The visible and invisible, put asunder by sin, are joined by metaphor.”

Language, especially language about God, can become idolatrous. Idolatry is the opposite of metaphor. Peterson continues: “An idol starts with a mystery and fashions it into something that can be measured; a metaphor begins with something common and lets it expand into immeasurable glory.” Theologians come up with statements and big words about God [e.g. omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, etc.] that become enshrined in creeds and “statements of faith” that border on idolatry. Psalm 18, and other psalms, do the opposite. Wild and wonderful metaphors open our imaginations to think about what God is like and they help us to experience God. Metaphors are not words used to restrict our experiences or someone else’s—“This is what God is like. This is how you are to experience God”—but the metaphorical language of the Psalms opens us up to the mysteries of divine work in our lives.