Remembering July 7, 2016 (Psalm 22)

Two years ago, at the end of protests on the night of July 7, 2016, a lone shooter ambushed a group of Dallas police officers, killing five men and injuring nine others. The ambush came amid high tensions across the nation concerning a rash of police shootings that received massive media scrutiny and sparked nationwide outrage, particularly in black communities.

Dallas is a city that has witnessed horrific events before. In 1963, JFK was assassinated here. After September 11, 2001, the skies above DFW, normally filled with flying machines, hovered quietly and somberly for days on end as the nation attempted to come to grips with what had happened that fateful day.

Two years after the shootings in Dallas, tensions and dissension remain. Yes, the focus and topics have changed, but the societal gaps have widened. We are not a nation that has been drawn closer together. The cohesiveness and unity of the day after 9-11 are a distant memory.

In the days that followed the cowardly attack, I had the privilege of attending several of the funerals for the officers. Pulling up to park at the memorial service for Dallas Police Sergeant Michael Smith, my friend Mark Jones and I were blown away at seeing the thousands of police cars and motorcycles lining the streets around Watermark Church. Mark and I lamented the state of race relations in America, discussing how, as ministers, we should respond to the ever-increasing tensions between our two respective races.

While we did not assess people by their skin color, we knew that people in the world did. We both believed in law and order and supporting those who protected our families and communities. Our hearts ached for the fallen officers and their families and the tensions splitting our nation apart. Walking to the church, neither of us knew that the Lord would call my friend Mark home the following year, days before the one-year anniversary of the ambush.

One Dallas

The focus of those days has shifted. The vitriolic venom, though, has not subsided. Our country is not any more united today than it was on that day. The divide still exists. Protests continue. As a nation, we are weary. Weary of the terrorism, tired of war, fed up with the drug epidemics, and frustrated by the unending protests against seemingly everything and everyone.

Psalm 22 The Message (MSG)

A David Psalm

22 1-2 God, God . . . my God!
Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.

3-5 And you! Are you indifferent, above it all,
  leaning back on the cushions of Israel’s praise?
We know you were there for our parents:
    they cried for your help and you gave it;
    they trusted and lived a good life.

6-8 And here I am, a nothing—an earthworm,
something to step on, to squash.
Everyone pokes fun at me;
they make faces at me, they shake their heads:
“Let’s see how God handles this one;
since God likes him so much, let him help him!”

9-11 And to think you were midwife at my birth,
setting me at my mother’s breasts!
When I left the womb you cradled me;
since the moment of birth you’ve been my God.
Then you moved far away
and trouble moved in next door.
I need a neighbor.

12-13 Herds of bulls come at me,
    the raging bulls stampede,
Horns lowered, nostrils flaring,
    like a herd of buffalo on the move.

14-15 I’m a bucket kicked over and spilled,
every joint in my body has been pulled apart.
My heart is a blob
of melted wax in my gut.
I’m dry as a bone,
my tongue black and swollen.
They have laid me out for burial
in the dirt.

16-18 Now packs of wild dogs come at me;
thugs gang up on me.
They pin me down hand and foot,
and lock me in a cage—a bag
Of bones in a cage, stared at
by every passerby.
They take my wallet and the shirt off my back,
and then throw dice for my clothes.

19-21 You, God—don’t put off my rescue!
    Hurry and help me!
Don’t let them cut my throat;
    don’t let those mongrels devour me.
If you don’t show up soon,
    I’m done for—gored by the bulls,
    meat for the lions.

22-24 Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship,
and punctuate it with Hallelujahs:
Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;
give glory, you sons of Jacob;
adore him, you daughters of Israel.
He has never let you down,
never looked the other way
when you were being kicked around.
He has never wandered off to do his own thing;
he has been right there, listening.

25-26 Here in this great gathering for worship
    I have discovered this praise-life.
And I’ll do what I promised right here
in front of the God-worshipers.
Down-and-outers sit at God’s table
    and eat their fill.
Everyone on the hunt for God
    is here, praising him.
“Live it up, from head to toe.
    Don’t ever quit!”

27-28 From the four corners of the earth
    people are coming to their senses,
    are running back to God.
Long-lost families
    are falling on their faces before him.
God has taken charge;
    from now on he has the last word.

29 All the power-mongers are before him
—worshiping!
All the poor and powerless, too
—worshiping!
Along with those who never got it together
—worshiping!

30-31 Our children and their children
will get in on this
As the word is passed along
from parent to child.
Babies not yet conceived
will hear the good news—
that God does what he says.

The Devotional Guy_preach the gospel

In Psalm 22, we find David weary and frustrated, feeling despondent, and wondering if God had forsaken him. Yet, he remained confident that God would look after him. Frustrated by God’s apparent lack of response to David’s prayers, he found encouragement through remembering God’s past faithfulness and goodness.

David teaches us a valuable lesson through his response. We see David demonstrating attitudes and concerns in similar ways that we do when the world seems to be piling problem after problem at our door. Amidst the turmoil swirling around his situation, David steps back long enough to remember the Lord’s previous mercies and grace. This made his present troubles appear small in retrospect.

David outlines his dire circumstances and then confidently expresses his personal trust in the Lord and belief that the same God who provided for him before will deliver him from certain death now.

When we find ourselves mired in the valley, we forget what we experienced on the mountaintop. My late friend Mark would often say something like “Don’t forget in the darkness what God showed you in the light.”

Yes, in this life we will have trouble. But, as we see in this Psalm written by David centuries ago, we can be confident that we serve a God who is trustworthy. God is able. With an able and faithful God on our side, we have nothing to fear in this life.

As a nation, I pray we will remember what we share in common is far greater than that which divides us. We must move past the vitriolic discourse and begin having honest conversations about what ails us. In my lifetime, I have seen our nation move far away from God. We have forsaken and forgotten Him, pushing Him out of virtually every facet of our lives. We’ve taken the wheel. We’ve become the pilots now. At best, we ask God to be our co-pilot, to ride along with us, as we pursue our will and seek out our own ways. Along the way, those who have pledged to protect and serve us are slaughtered on the battlefields far away and those close to home.

DPD Memorial 2016Please checkout Gary Miller and I discussing “Everythingness” on the WorshipMinistry.com podcast.

More Community, Less Celebrity

Growing up, it was hard to get away with much because when I was out from under my parent’s watchful eyes the neighbors were keeping an eye on me. I knew if my folks weren’t home, I could go to a nearby neighbor’s house and find a warm, welcome, safe place. We played EVERYWHERE, including the front yard. My friends and I kept an eye out for each other and parents watched out for the kids on their street. There was less isolation. You felt you were part of something. You felt like you belonged. I believe that in our ever-increasing celebrity obsessed society we need to see a return to this sense of community.

Community teaches us how to love and respect each other. Through community we learn how to share and how to appreciate each others differences. Community helps us celebrate our victories and overcome our shared tragedies. Community lessens the opportunity for someone to hide in the shadows waiting to do harm by lessening the desire to do so to begin with.

Community brings us together. 

Today, we are bombarding kids with the lie that in order for their life to matter and have meaning they need to be famous–regardless of how they come about their notoriety. A lot of them feel it is the only way out; the only way to have the American Dream. Others–struggling with their self-identity–find a need to lash out to get noticed. At the end of the day, our choices can’t be  “being Kardashian” or being a crazed lone gunman. What an awful place to be in to find your self-worth.

All life has value. Each life matters. You matter. You have worth. You have value. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. You’re not a mistake. You’re not a failure. You’re a human being on the way to becoming who you are meant to be. Maybe you are blessed with great talent and skill. Maybe you’re not sure what your talents or skills are. There is a lot yet to discover on the road of life.

Too often, celebrity has come to mean “I matter more than you.”

When we place greater value on fame and fortune than simply loving our neighbor, our society will continue to be the loser, paying the tragic price we have already paid in spades, and left wondering why and how someone could be so desperate to be known that they resort to mass violence, disrupting our lives with bombings, shootings, and other expressions of terror. If it’s not a gun, it’s a bomb. If that isn’t dramatic enough, we see these individuals screaming to be heard, resort to burning people alive or beheading children. I believe what drives one guy to join jihad and another person to walk on campus and commit an egregious act of violence is rooted in the same misguided values. They are so desperate to be heard that they no longer value life and are under the delusional belief that there is a great reward to be found in extinguishing the lives of others, in the process achieving celebrity and renown for themselves.

We have to figure out a way to take away the reward and formulate a practical deterrent to the mass-violence we are all sick and tired of seeing on the nightly news. The answer isn’t more regulation of activities by law-abiding citizens. We can’t respond by inconveniencing those who have done no wrong. We can not continue to allow ourselves to be divided. We’ve got to get back to basics and find the courage to teach the next generation about God, love and respect. We’ve got to return to modeling kindness and treating one another the way we want to be treated. We must return to rewarding doing the right thing and stop celebrating bad behavior. It is time we stop vilifying heroes and glorifying villans.

This starts in our own neighborhoods. It starts in our communities.

We have to build on a greater sense of community and lessen the focus on celebrity. Simply being famous for being famous isn’t a value. Being known for nothing isn’t an achievement. It is a symptom of a disease. We are not a world of individuals; rather, we are individuals living in a world, together.

You have value. We all matter.

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