On Sunday at the beginning of the sermon I gave the “homework” to the congregation to go and read three books (which really are just individual chapters) from what is known as the Old Testament Apocrypha, or the “Deuterocanonical” books. Catholics include them in their Bible but Protestants do not. They were composed in the time between the Old and New Testament and are “Daniel stories.” Those three books/chapters are the book of Susanna, the book of Bel and the Dragon, and 1 Maccabees 1 (or all of 1 Maccabees!). I also hinted that, as extra credit, one could read the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8 alongside Susanna.

I had been emailing with Al O’Brien about Daniel (Al is an excellent Greek reader and enjoys reading through whichever book we’re going through for the sermon series in Greek) and I suggested he read these in Greek, as well. I then hinted that maybe something Jesus wrote in the dust in John 8 was a verse from Susanna, maybe something from verses 42-49 (in reality, we’ll never know, and it’s probably part of the point of the story that we don’t know… but it sure is fun to speculate!). Here is Al’s well-thought-out response, comparing the book of Susanna to John 8 (produced here with Al’s permission, of course):

I was thinking about the Susanna and John passages you referenced, and I realized some interesting points in both of them. The first and is that both passages are considered by many folks to be outside the original documents.  For Susanna, it would be the Daniel document, and for Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, in John’s gospel.[1]

Both passages provide us information about the characters involved.  The New English Bible commentators see the Susanna passage almost as an introduction of Daniel to the people of Israel, thereby establishing his status as a wise and thoughtful man, certainly important for the story as a whole.  John’s passage also shows Jesus’ character as well.  For Jesus though, we see a person who really understands, and to some extent trusts, the basic nature of human beings. However, Jesus has also already been established in other sections of the Gospel.

One difference between the two passages is the method used to establish authority, rightness, and wisdom of the actions of both men. Daniel’s actions are based on a very logical and obviously observational approach to the situation, i.e., the using of the two trees to demonstrate the falsehood of what is going on.  For Jesus, he does what he always seems to do:  he throws the decision back to the individual and calls upon them to to make the decision as to what is right based upon their own consciences, and what they know to be true and right.  What is especially significant in this last point are the cultural differences that are pointed by the two incidents.  For the Susanna story, we see the importance of logic and judicial inquiry to establish truth, a very “Hebrew” reliance on law and order to show rightness.  Jesus, on the other hand, really looks to the individual and God’s work in the individual to provide understanding and the light of conscience.

[1] Al is referencing here the fact that this story is not present in some of the earliest manuscripts we have of the Gospel of John. Many Bibles will include a little note such as this found in the NIV: “The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11.” Susanna, of course, is a Daniel story that is not found in the book of Daniel.

Grove of Patriarchs: A Poem

I’ve had a few folks ask me if I’d share the poem I wrote and read at the Annual Congregational Meeting. Here it is!

How many trees were felled
for the making of this place?
And where did they come from?
Some came, surely from not so far away
rooted and raised in the Northwest rain
they knew this land well
its culture and climate
its soil and soul.
Some came from further afield 
(or further aforest)
brought here by mighty ships
on mightier swells
bringing the beauty and sins of distant lands
to this home where they came to live and love.

What did the trees look like before they came?
Some had a strength and sturdiness
that came with great age
which they gave to fortify the place,
now mighty beams lifting ceiling and sight
to Things Above.
Some came diseased, deadened, warped
and found in the giving of themselves to the place
that they now had a place.
Some came too rigid
and were softened, bent,
and in their bending they became
instruments for stringed songs
violins, guitars, cellos, violas and basses
from them rose a resonance
a beauty not possible before their bending
a freedom not imagined before giving themselves up.

How many trees were felled for the making of this place?
On the sanctuary ceiling are rows of 
planks upon planks upon planks
easy to overlook or to take for granted
and yet if just one was missing
everyone would notice the gaping gap
and the place would feel forever incomplete.
Trees that are now pulpit, font, table
handed themselves over to careful carving
the chipping away, that something
always seen in them 
that they could not see in themselves
might be revealed and discovered,
and in the beauty unveiled in the carving,
these containers of the Holy
point to the beauty of the plain elements they hold
bread and cup, water, an old book
a heavenly feast, spring of eternal life, the Word made flesh.

How many trees were felled for the making of this place? 
Many trees, and only one tree
that cursed tree
that sits in the center of the place 
where the Carpenter gave his life for the forest
in their surrender to the Carpenter killed on the tree
together they have made 
and are making and 
are being made by this place
felled trees now trees of the field
clapping their hands in joy
planted by streams of water
in giving their lives up
to the place, to the Lord of the place
they have been found
in their dying, here at last, they live.

A Divine and Supernatural Light

by Rev. Joe Bettridge

I remember being in 4th-grade Sunday school at First Presbyterian Church in Tacoma and how our teacher brought out her flannel graph. In the 1950s, a flannel graph was a visual learning tool. It consisted of a sticky piece of cloth to which you could attach other fabrics to make pictures. And so she put a heart on the flannel graph that was broken, scarred, and dirty. And then, on top of that heart, she placed a red heart. “This red heart,” she said, is the blood of Jesus Christ that absorbs all the brokenness in our sin-damaged heart. And then she put a bright yellow heart over the red heart and said, “This is what your new heart is like when it is filled with the light of God because His Holy Spirit is dwelling in you.” And at that moment, I had an intense awareness that everything she told us was true. And I believed it.  

Over 50 years ago,  when I was in seminary, I read Jonathan Edward’s sermon, A Divine and Supernatural Light. And I began to understand that my 4th-grade Sunday School experience was more than an interaction between a teacher and a student, but that God had imparted a divine supernatural light to me at that moment. Edward wrote:

       “There is a beauty so divine, that it is [distinguished] from things merely human, or that men are the inventors of a glory that is so high and great, that when clearly seen, commands our assent to their divinity and reality.”

In my workshop during the Edwards conference, we will take a closer look at  Edwards’ famous sermon and examine our own spiritual experiences as Christians. We will talk about our doubts and questions but also how the divine and supernatural light of Jesus Christ is experienced in our lives.

In 2018 Joe completed 46 years of pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church USA and is now an honorably retired Northwest Coast Presbytery member. Joe came to faith in the First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma and was spiritually nurtured at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. He has served long-term pastorates in Alaska, Arizona, and recently in Friday Harbor, WA. Joe graduated from Stadium High in Tacoma and the University of Washington. He received his Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Doctorate of Missiology from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Edwards the Exegete by Douglas Sweeney: A Short Reflection

by Ty Whitman

I was immensely helped by Doug Sweeney’s magnum opus, “Edwards the Exegete”. Through every chapter and every page, wading through the exegetical life of Jonathan Edwards, I was drawn into a sense of awe. Edwards at times would miss meals, and spend hours upon hours in his study, as he dove deep into the sea of the Bible. I was at times discouraged, wondering if this was possible as an ordinary 21st century man; could I ever have my days look the way Edwards’ days looked? The discouragement wouldn’t last, as God moved me to consider how I could make my days seem but just a fraction of Edwards days. And so, as a pastor, and as a follower of Christ, this volume by Sweeney captivated my mind and moved me to make changes in my own personal study habits. The first section of the book is not a biography, but it’s a blueprint. One that Christ followers who desire to grow in their knowledge and love of Christ should seek to imitate. Not exactly, of course. Edwards, like many academics was gifted with a vocation that mandated hours of study, and allowed for it. The modern Christian-American would find it difficult to spend 13 hours daily in bible study: they have jobs for 9 hours a day, kids to take care of, and dishes to do. They don’t own by slaves1, like Edwards’ family did, that afforded him the time to focus on study rather than household tasks. So then, how can Edwards’ study habits be a blueprint for us? Well, it’s clear that the Bible and its contents were a top priority for Edwards, and it wasn’t just because he was a pastor. He very well could have said at an early age that his study in the Bible was complete (much like how many modern Christians view their study), as he was well acquainted with Greek by the time he was a young teenager, and he was incredibly well acquainted with the whole counsel of God by his early twenties. However, Edwards loved the Bible, and believed that it was the greatest way to know his Savior, and to hear His voice. His position in American academia was highly regarded, and he could have moved on from the Bible to spend more time in the philosophy of the world, with the John Locke’s of the world. And while he clearly spent time with those authors and thinkers, it always followed deep biblical study, and it was always spent by Edwards trying to understand the spiritual ramifications of the philosophy he was reading. The Scriptures were his guide, and final authority, and it showed in his study and writing. THIS is to be the way we can learn from Edwards. Where do the Scriptures rank on our priority list? I’ve had to ask myself this question far too often. I enjoy my television, a distraction unavailable to Edwards and those like him. I enjoy social media, far too much, and I get lost in unedifying and meaningless videos and posts from people I have never met. I spend too much time considering the political world. Is the Bible my priority? When I look at may days — outside of the time spent in my office at the church, where my vocation mandates I spend time in it — I see just how low the Scriptures are on my totem pole. Doug Sweeney illuminated that to me, and I needed to repent of my lack of love for God’s Divine Word. What Sweeney’s work does for us is give us a glimpse at a man who was immersed in Scripture, and whether it was Sweeney’s intention or not, it calls us to the mat. Where do the Scriptures lie on our priority list? Here’s how Sweeney works out Edwards’ view of the Scriptures: 

“The Bible is full of wonderful things” Edwards attest to his people. It has stood the test of time, it is the worlds “most comprehensive book.” It is divine. It is unerring. The splendid light that sheds on our world is 10,000 times better than that of the sun. The scripture’s sacred text, Edwards contended, are the most excellent things in the world. In fact, they tower as much above those things we study in other sciences, as Heaven is above the Earth. Further, the knowledge held in these heavenly texts is infinitely more useful and important than the knowledge attained in all other sciences. Scripture was a great and precious treasure. He pleaded with his congregations to search for biblical treasure, and that with the same diligence with which men digging mines for gold. He assured them that the Bible contains enough within its covers so to employ us to the end. Even at death, he said we shall leave enough of the scriptures uninvestigated to employ the ablest divines to the end of the world, or better to employ the Saints and angels to all eternity. He confessed on many occasions that those who have ever tasted the sweetness of God’s scriptural divinity, will live out their days in longing for more of it.” (Pg.4, Edwards the Exegete). 

It will be my hope, and my prayer, that as we spend time looking at the spirituality of Edwards, we will be drawn into a greater desire to prioritize our own personal study of Scripture and drawn into a greater desire to know our God intimately.

 1It is no secret that Edwards was a slave holder. This has brought many in the evangelical world, and other factions of Christian thought, to remove him altogether. I personally find this to be the wrong conclusion to make. It was a grievous sin for Edwards to participate in the slave trade at all, make no mistake about it. However, I do not feel all that ready to try and chastise a man for a sin that he was blind to. In glory, Edwards now possess the knowledge for his sin (along with many others, since we know Edwards and all other saints were not perfect or sinless) and he has been judged for them. The way I seek to reconcile how a man of such intellect and such biblical awareness could possibly fall to such an evil sin, is by looking inwards. Yes, if such a man, who knew far more about the scriptures than I, who spent far more time in prayer and mortification of his sin than I, who spent far more time studying God’s word than I, if he could fall to such a sin, and be so blind, what am I blind to? What sins have I participated in, what sinful systems have I perpetuated, that I am blind to? So while we must be clear and say that Edwards was in clear violation of the Law and of the teaching of Scripture, we mustn’t cast him out of the kingdom or our academic circles as a result. If this was the case, there would be no theologian on earth, no thinker in modern day, that we could use as a guide or teacher. “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”(Romans 3:23). 

Sarah Edwards: Pursuing an Authentic Faith

by Becce Bettridge

What was it like for Sarah to be the wife of that famous (infamous) colonial pastor, Jonathan Edwards? What was it like to sit every Sunday, with your 11 children, in the “assigned pew” facing the congregation, seeing every frown, look of puzzlement, half smile, and those piercing eyes which took note of what you were wearing and how your children behaved? What was it like to host house guests at a moment’s notice because the pastor’s home was the place to stay when notable people came to town…not to mention the many young men under Jonathan’s tutelage spreading themselves out in a small house the way young men tend to do? Having been married to a pastor for many years, these questions and more have always fascinated me. How did other women face the challenges of this life and still thrive as Christians, partners in ministry, and human beings? And then, one day I came across an intriguing book entitled, Marriage to a Difficult Man: the uncommon union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, by Elisabeth Dobbs. THIS I HAVE TO READ!…so I did…and Sarah has been one of my heroes of faith ever since. 

When you are married to the pastor, and that is the person you hear preach year-in and year-out, it is paramount that you have a robust spiritual life beyond the Sunday morning experience. Sarah Edwards had just that kind of active relationship with God which carried her through the best of times, as well as the difficult seasons. Sarah was very human and struggled, as we all do, with human weakness. At times, she was overcome with depression, fear of criticism, and loneliness. Yet, throughout her life, it was said that she was of a “good disposition” and “did all as a service of love…with cheerfulness, peace, and joy.”  But there came a time in Sarah’s life when she experienced an intense spiritual crisis from which she later immerged with a greater assurance of God’s love and favor.

During the Sarah Edwards: Pursuing an Authentic Faith workshop we will meet Sarah through video in a one-woman play, written and acted by Maggie Rowe.  Sarah pursued God, and God pursued Sarah. In many ways, Sarah’s story is not too different from our own…for God is pursuing each of us as well. During our session together, time will be given for each of us to ponder aspects of our own experience of God’s pursuit.  

Sarah’s life verse was Romans 8:38-39, For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us (me) from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our (my) fears for today nor our (my) worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us (me) from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us (me) from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our (my) Lord.

This is as true for us, today, as it was true for Sarah in 1742.

Becce has been a spiritual director since 2009, and holds certifications from both the Monastery of the Risen Christ in Santa Barbara, California, and Christian Formation and Direction Ministry in Seattle. She holds a BA in Communication and Literature, and a Master of Biblical Studies. Becce enjoys speaking, teaching, and writing on the topic of spiritual formation. She also enjoys kayaking, hiking, and reading novels late at night. However, her very favorite thing to do is spend time with her family (which includes 5 very interesting grandchildren).

The Gospel For All People: The Cross Cultural Evangelism of Edwards and Las Casas

by Josh Lott

Imagine, for just a moment, that we discovered sentient life on another planet. No doubt, this would bring up lots of questions. Can we communicate with these creatures? Are they rational? Do they feel pain in the same ways that we do? Digging a bit deeper, we might ask things like: Do they have souls? Do they sin? Are they in need of salvation?

Perhaps you’re reading this thinking: “That’s ridiculous. Why would we ask these questions. Obviously they don’t have souls. Only humans are created in the image of God and these obviously wouldn’t be humans.” And you’re right. This is a bit of an extreme example. But these questions are actually the exact questions that European colonizers were asking as they came to the new world. Contact with new people groups challenged many of the worldviews held by Europeans as they encountered indigenous tribes. 

There were some, however, who were passionate about bringing the whole gospel to these people, and loving them with the love of Jesus. Two bright examples of this in history are two men who never met. One, a Dominican friar from Spain who ministered in the 16th century. The other, a protestant pastor born in the new world at the beginning of the 18th century. Both Bartolomé de las Casas and Jonathan Edwards devoted a great portion of their lives and ministries to bringing the gospel to indigenous people of their lands, and faced that great challenge of cross cultural evangelism.  

In our pursuit of an authentic faith, we may never encounter an unreached people group. We will very likely never encounter alien life forms. But we do live in an age of rapidly changing culture. A melting pot where ideas are shared at the speed of a finger swipe and worldviews are shaped by voices on a screen. In this digital age, it is important for followers of Jesus to be willing to walk into unfamiliar cultures, knowing that the gospel is bigger than every culture, and that Christ is at work to redeem all things for his glory. In studying these two men, Las Casas and Edwards, we can learn that bearing Christ to an unfamiliar and sometimes hostile culture will produce change. Change that happens not only in that culture, but also in us. As we share Christ with the world, Christ teaches us about himself: reminding us that he is full of compassion and love for all of us.

Josh is the Associate Pastor of City Chapel of Bremerton. He has been married to his wife Rebecca for 12 years and has two kids, Joey and Evelynn. Josh loves to bake, do puzzles, and ride his motorcycle. Josh holds an MA in Church History and an MA in Theology from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and is passionate about making the local church more aware of its beautiful and rich history and traditions.

Jesus’ Use of the Psalms

Over the coming days on our blog we will be hearing from some of the speakers who will be sharing at our Psalms Conference on June 11th. Today’s entry is from Jim Davis, who will be leading the breakout session “Jesus’ Use of the Psalms.” Click here to learn more and register for the conference.

Luke-Acts is the longest continuous narrative of the gospel and it’s the only one that includes an account of how Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension into heaven was understood by his followers.  That understanding re-shaped their Christology (their understanding of who Jesus really was and what he had really done) and their sense of their own identity and their mission and purpose.

In this seminar we’ll explore the way that the Psalms played a pivotal role in Jesus’ life from the time of his birth, through his ministry, during his passion, and after his resurrection as the Holy Spirit he breathed into his followers guided them to discover how to use the Psalms in life-changing ways.  We’ll point out some of those ways and learn very practically how we can use the Psalms in the same ways as Jesus and his first followers did.

Jim received his PhD in New Testament in 1982 from the University of Nottingham mentored by Dr. J.D.G. Dunn. He has taught and pastored since then, including as Senior Pastor of CKPres from 1999-2007. He will be teaching New Testament for Gordon-Conwell Seminary and previously taught courses for Fuller Seminary from 1992 until his retirement this year. In 2019 he retired as Senior Pastor/Head of Staff at a suburban Houston congregation.

A Quiet Little Psalm for Noisy Brains

Over the coming days on our blog we will be hearing from some of the speakers who will be sharing at our Psalms Conference on June 11th. Today’s entry is from Joe Bettridge, who will be leading the breakout session “A Quiet Little Psalm for Noisy Brains.” Click here to learn more and register for the conference.

Lord, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance.

I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me.

Instead, I am content and at peace.

As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me.

Israel, trust in the Lord now and forever

Psalm 131

During the late 1920s, physicist Harry Nyquist and electrical engineer Ralph Hartley investigated how information is transmitted. From their research came the distinction between what is called “noise and signal.” A meaningful signal contains understandable information, while noise is the random clatter of unintelligible sounds that interfere with the signal. Think of trying to tune in to a radio station and getting a lot of static. Worry is a signal that sometimes means you are sensing some genuine danger. But most of our worries are just agitating noises in our heads thrust upon us by the devil, the world, and our sin-damaged souls.

Psalm 131 is my favorite Psalm. But it is a peculiar Psalm. First, because it is the shortest Psalm in the Bible. Secondly, it begins with a seemingly anti-intellectual notion quite angular to our educated sensibilities. Consider Verse One, where David says: “I am not concerned with great matters or topics too difficult for me.” What is he saying here? Are we not to read challenging books, think deeply about current events, or go to graduate school? Our little Psalm tells us that these questions miss the deeper point, that our problem is ‎not that we are ignorant and need better information but that we ‎are lost ‎and stuck and dying and need ‎Jesus.

Notice how this Psalm itself has both a philosophical and practical side. The Psalmist is proclaiming is the futility of fretting over things that we cannot change. It is the Biblical basis for the Serenity Prayer.’ “God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

Psalm 131 presents us with the wonderful truth that we can actually hear God’s life-giving signal communicating with us from beyond all the noise in our culture and especially in our own heads. Much of what happens to us in this world is incomprehensible. We can’t make sense of “great matters.” We can’t separate the signal from the noise. But God hasn’t called us to make sense of everything but simply to trust in Jesus Christ, who is God’s clear signal to us even as John 1:18 explains: “No one has ever seen God. But God’s the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, has made God known to us.”

Come join me in exploring Psalm 131, where our noisy brains can seek God’s calming Presence in this quiet little Psalm.

Joe recently completed 46 years of pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church and now is an honorably retired member of Northwest Coast Presbytery. Joe came to faith in the First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma and was spiritually nurtured at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. He has served long term pastorates in Alaska, Arizona and recently in Friday Harbor, WA. Joe graduated from Stadium High in Tacoma and the University of Washington. He received his Master of Divinity, Master of Theology and Doctorate of Missiology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Becce, are delighted to now be part of the CKPC family.

The Psalms Really Messed Me Up!

Over the coming days on our blog we will be hearing from some of the speakers who will be sharing at our Psalms Conference on June 11th. Today’s entry is from John Haberlin, who will be leading the breakout session “The Psalms as Pictograph: A Look at Acrostic Psalms.” Click here to learn more and register for the conference.

I was a commuting student to Seattle Pacific College (now University) from 1959 to 1963. Students that lived within the Seattle City Limits could not stay on campus because of the student housing shortage.

I was raised in a very conservative, fundamentalist congregation that stressed the Bible as the “Word of God.” The implication was that scripture had basically been dictated (though I don’t remember actually hearing that but it was just “the way it was”). It was here that I spent my non-student hours as “Youth Director.”

As one of SPC’s requirements, we had to take Bible courses … and foolishly I signed up for Psalms, taught by Dr. Joseph Davis. Of course, I was from a “Bible Believing Church” so obviously I was going to cinch this course … “Look, out “A” I’ve got you aced!” What do you mean a “D” on my first test? I was overwhelmed with confusion. It was like I was in a foreign land and they were speaking a language different from mine.

At that time in history the King James Version was the only available translation; except for a few less known and more “scholarly” translations from England. The landslide of translations was yet come. When I heard God “speak” it was always in KJV English. Every word was equal. To consider the context, the style, the purpose, the words used was meaningless. Now I was presented with an even more subtle concept that was like a foreign language to me. Well, indeed it was a foreign language, yes, even two ancient languages: “Hebrew!” I didn’t even understand it and it was written in weird “hen scratches.” Didn’t God speak KJ English???? And then, of course Greek … well, kind of, a rather “pop form” of Greek and not that of the philosophers … common everyday language. (Yes, the Psalms were translated into Greek by the time Jesus was born). As I focused on a Greek minor I was forced to take “classical Greek”as well and let me tell you, there is no comparison – kind of like trying to speed read the Hebrew of the very different “Job” in the Old Testament.

Back to Psalms: For the first time I had to struggle with a first domino and I was beginning to see that there were some other dominos off in the distance that if that first one fell, I feared that all heck was going happen. Threatening! Scary! Confusing! My simplistic world was beginning to crash. Thank you Lord, Jesus!

It was a tough lesson but one that I am so grateful for. I came to understand that God was not sitting on a cloud dictating through telepathy to the writers of the books of the Bible. No! God was encountering people, somewhat like you and me, in the real world in which we live. The scribes of the Psalms (Yes, plural! and No! David didn’t write them all) were real people, maybe even a bit bi-polar, just like people I know including the one I see from time to time in the mirror. Some were filled with faith. Some reeked of despair. Psalms were poetry, pondered contemplatively with each word a picture, sometimes with acrostic magic. Some were angry. Some I just don’t get. However, what I have come to understand and deeply respect is that God is in each psalm, engaged with real living people like you and me. They speak the whole spectrum of human life. Amazingly we are allowed to hear God’s faithful people vehemently yelling at God, praising God and you name it. God was and is in the Psalms in every corner of life right where we live.

This encounter with the Psalms in Dr. Davis’ class was an open door to me (though the final grade didn’t show it but what a good lesson for me) to move to the rest of scripture. I developed a passion for the original languages, especially the Greek of the New Testament but also for the Hebrew of the Old. I became engrossed in meeting the writers of each book of the compendium we call “The Book” (ultimately not a helpful term). I tried to meet the writers where they lived and hear them as they encountered God in their circumstances just like I am led to do in my life. As a pastor, one of my chief goals was to bring people into an encounter with the Living God which I truly believe is the goal of the LOGOS written and empowered by God’s Holy Gust (some people refer to tou hagiou pneumatos as the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit but I prefer the insight of a young friend of mine “The Holy Gust” (pneumatic – English transliteration of the Greek).

I’m not sure that generally the Psalms are written to be studies with great depth (though I am so thankful for those who have studied them deeply and brought out insights we could seldom discover on our own). What I am thankful for is the unique ability of the Psalms, one here and one there, to hit us right where we are living in that moment. Their ability to identify with our deepest thoughts is beyond human origin. They truly are divine …No! They are more powerful than a divine dictum. The Psalms are encounters with real humans, living real human lives and emotions in the presence of the Eternal and Ever Present God. Emmanuel, God with us.

John grew up in West Seattle, attended Seattle Pacific, Fuller Seminary and received his DMin from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. He began at Westminster Presbyterian in Yakima, moved to First Presbyterian in Hayward, California, served as founding pastor of CKPC, was Associate for Church Growth at General Assembly, and finally pastor at Harrison Square Presbyterian in Centralia. He is married to his lifelong friend, Pamela. They have three children and six grandchildren.

New Conversations with an Old Friend

Over the coming days on our blog we will be hearing from some of the speakers who will be sharing at our Psalms Conference on June 11th. First up is Becce Bettridge, who will be leading the breakout session “New Conversations with an Old Friend” Click here to learn more and register for the conference.

There is something very special about a long-time friendship. I have known my friend, Leslie Mauermann, since she sat behind me in AP US History when we were both juniors at Arcadia High School in Arcadia, California. She was the first to know that I thought I was falling in love with my husband, Joe. She took me to church and shared her “white gloves,” a requirement (apparently) at Arcadia Presbyterian Church in 1968. We were in each other’s weddings. I wept on the phone with her when she filed for a divorce. She wept with me when I miscarried my first pregnancy. She knows me as well as anyone alive…and yet we continue to surprise and delight each other as we share how we are growing, and the myriad of ways God is showing up in our lives. Ours continues to be a comfortable, but evolving, friendship.

Many of us, who have known Psalm 23 for most of our lives, tend to come to it with practiced eyes. We know what it says, we have heard the familiar phrases before. But one of the joys of reading scripture, is that it has the ability to surprise and touch us in new ways each time we engage with it. Particularly, when we slow down and ponder the words meditatively. The writer of Lamentations reminds us, “God’s mercies are new every morning (3:23).

  • How is God like my shepherd?
  • Is God inviting me to rest in “green pastures” … stick my feet in a quite stream?
  • When did God walk with me through the shadow of death? Did I know God was there as promised?
  • Is God preparing a table for me right now? What’s God serving?

All these questions, and more, come to us quietly when we engage slowly and prayerfully with this Psalm.

In The Message, Eugene Peterson grabs our attention by translating the final verses of Psalm 23:

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

An old friend…seen through fresh eyes. Come join us as we welcome God to speak to us in a very personal, perhaps even new, way through this beloved psalm.

Becce has been a spiritual director since 2009 and holds certifications from both Monastery of the Risen Christ in Santa Barbara and Christian Formation & Direction Ministries in Seattle. She holds a BA in Communication and Literature, a Master of Biblical Studies, and has studied spiritual direction and dream work with the Haden Institute in North Carolina.