Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Isaiah 1:14-16 (ESV)
Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,

The religious activities of God’s people are despicable to God. They carry on their religious festivals and prayers, but God refuses to acknowledge their worship. Why? Their “hands are full of blood,” and their deeds are evil. A conservative, evangelical Christian is likely to point fingers at the liberal church and say, “That is a description of them.” They appear religious, but their hands are full of blood and their ways are evil. They support the killing of unborn children and they reject the truth and authority of Scripture.

Let me challenge you to consider that it is equally the conservative evangelical being described here. What does God mean when he says that their hands are full of blood and their deeds are evil? The very next verse explains what he is talking about.  

Isaiah 1:17
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

There was a time when Israel was involved in the despicable practices of child sacrifice like the pagans around them. But here God speaks of something else. They need to “learn to do good.” They need to “seek justice and correct oppression.” They need to “bring justice to the fatherless” and the widow. These, unfortunately, are areas of life that conservative evangelicals have often neglected. Years ago, those areas of life were delegated to the government. It is the government that is responsible for justice. It is the government that is to cover the needs of the widow through Social Security. It is the government that oversees the foster care system. That is not the churches role. That sounds too much like a Social Gospel. We don’t go there. And therein lies the problem.

Jesus said that the greatest command was to love God, and that the second was to love others. The Apostle John wrote, “And this commandment we have from him (Jesus): whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21 ESV). I have heard love described as obedience. If you love God you will obey him. This is true, but obey him in what? Jesus only gave us two commands. Love God. Love others. Too often we have defined loving God as not going to bars, not hanging out with sinners, and not doing “bad” things. Jesus says that loving God is primarily defined as loving others.

There is not a Gospel and a Social Gospel. There is only the Gospel that changes hearts and turns self-centered, self-focused sinners into loving servants of the poor, disenfranchised, and underprivileged. Maybe we are not as godly as we would like to think. Israel certainly wasn’t. Let’s stop pointing fingers at others and take a good hard look in the mirror. Who do you love?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

James 5:14-18 (ESV)
[14] Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. [15] And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. [16] Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. [17] Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. [18] Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

I was teaching somewhere the other day about our position in Christ. Someone asked, “Do we have all authority in Christ?” I asked what they meant and they said, “Can we lay hands on anyone and heal them like Jesus did?” James talks about praying for the sick and seeing them healed in this passage. He connects the concept to the power of a righteous person’s prayer, using Elijah as an example. In thinking through this passage around the question of healing we need to consider three facts related to this passage.

First, notice that this passage does not say that whenever anyone is sick we should run out and pray for their healing. Yes, Jesus gave his disciples authority to heal and cast out demons when he sent them out, but notice that Jesus did not heal every sick person he came in contact with. Not even Jesus exercised authority over sickness all the time. Jesus, of all people, could have done that, but he didn’t. In this passage in James says that the one who is sick is to call for the elders. Those praying here have some position of spiritual authority. Those praying here are called for. They don’t initiate the prayer. This passage is not teaching that Christians have the power or authority to pray for any sick at any time and expect them to be healed.

Second, not only are they to call for the elders, but they are to confess any sin that may be the cause of their sickness. When someone who is sick asks me to come and anoint them with oil and pray for their healing, I want to know whether there is any sin in their life that may be the cause of their illness. If so, it needs to be confessed. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul warns the Corinthian believers that because of their abuse of the Lord’s supper some of them are sick, “and some have died” (1 Cor 11:30). Not all illness is the result of sin, but sin may result in illness. If we are to pray for the healing of someone we should at least explore the possibility that there may be sin involved. Confession of sin is a part of the process in this passage in James.

Third, Elijah is the example used in this passage to demonstrate the power of prayer. Here is what we miss when we read this: Elijah prayed when God directed him to pray. As an appointed prophet of God, he prophesied drought in 1 Kings 17. 1 Kings 18:1 says, “After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.’” In other words, Elijah prayed for rain when God told him to pray for rain. We sometimes read James as though he is saying that Elijah’s powerful prayer caused the rain. We forget that Elijah didn’t pray until God told him to. Part of the power of prayer must be connected to a heart that is listening well to the Spirit of God. “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (Jas 5:17). The power of Elijah’s prayer was not the person of Elijah, but the plan and purpose of God.

So, do we have the authority to lay hands on anyone at any time and heal them like Jesus did? That is hardly the point of this passage, or any other passage that addresses healing in the scriptures. What we do learn is that Church Elders have the authority to pray for the sick when those who are sick call for them. Elders have the responsibility to ask about sin in the life of those for whom they are praying. We have the responsibility to pray as God clearly leads. Our part is to listen well and follow closely. God’s part is to answer prayer according to his purpose and plan. Prayer, then, is not about learning to manipulate God to do our will. It is about listening well to God so that we might be involved in his will. Ultimately it is all about him.

Friday, January 27, 2017

James 5:13 (ESV)
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

By the time we get to this verse in James if feels like James is just jumping around from topic to topic trying to hit several disconnected issues. He warned the rich. He encouraged the poor to be patient. He challenged believers against becoming judgmental. Now he addresses praying for the sick, and will close with a quick statement about restoring a wandering brother. Our tendency is to treat these verses like proverbs, words of wisdom that are disconnected from the verses around them, but that would be a misunderstanding of what James is doing. James is coming back to the issue he started with.

In James 1:2 he wrote, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Ten verses later he said, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:12 ESV). He started his letter talking about suffering and he ends talking about suffering. This is not a coincidence. This goes to the heart of James message. Often people will hear James and think, “Oh, that’s the book about obedience. ‘Faith without works is dead.’” But it is really a book about relationships within the Body of Christ. Those suffering are suffering at the hands of others. The discussion about obedience is centered on serving others. The issue of prayer is about praying for others. The idea of confession and healing is about ministry to others. James is a letter written to a dysfunctional group of believers that need to learn what it means to truly be the Body of Christ.

How is the Body of Christ supposed to function? If you are sick call for the elders. Pray for the sick. Confess your sins to one another. Bring back your wandering brother. James 1:3 says, “For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” We are to count it joy when we fall into trials because the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. But, what if a brother, in the face of testing, does not remain steadfast? What if he/she but wanders from the truth? What if they don’t hold up under the pressure? Then we are to bring him/her back (Jas 5:19-20). Too often we blame them. We decry their failure. We pray for them, but what we don’t do is love them.

When James writes that we are to bring “back a sinner from his wandering” (Jas 5:20), he is not talking a about being the moral police. He is not talking about fixing each other. He is not talking about watching each other to make sure we don’t step out of line. That is divisive, not unifying. He is talking about how to really care for one another when things get tough and our faith falters. What if we really functioned that way as a church? What if we really did “rejoice with those who rejoice,” and “weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15)? How might our churches look and feel differently? How might our testimony in the world look different? The world might even believe that we really are followers of Jesus.  

Friday, January 20, 2017

James 5:8, 9, 12 (ESV)
You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

What does it mean to “establish your hearts?” It means “Do not grumble….do not swear.” I find it interesting that James instructs the believers not to grumble, “but above all” not to swear. When he says “do not swear,” he is not talking about cursing or cuss words. He is not talking about bad language. He is talking about taking oaths. In our culture that is not such an issue I suppose, although in place of taking an oath, we draw up contracts for everything. We want it in writing. In James day taking an oath was intended to indicate absolute truthfulness. In our day having something in writing is intended for the same purpose. In neither case did it actually work. There is always a loophole somewhere. Oaths and contracts tend to be the tools of dishonest people. James says, “Just tell the truth.” James is echoing Jesus words here.
Matthew 5:33 (ESV)
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ [34] But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, [35] or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.

The legalist in me wants to ask, “Does that mean that I can’t “swear to tell the truth” when I testify in court? But that misses the point. This isn’t about Jesus or James adding another rule to the 600+ rules already in place in the Old Testament. This is a challenge to be truthful people. Jesus goes on to say, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Mt 5:37 ESV). James echoes Jesus words, “let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (Jas 5:12 ESV). Neither Jesus nor James are trying to add to the burden of laws we need to keep. They are saying that we ought to quit looking for loopholes to get around keeping our word, and just be honest.

Earlier James chastised the wealthy for not paying their workers. He chastised the workers for grumbling. Now he says, “Don’t grumble, but above all, tell the truth.” Here is the interesting thing, when I read this passage the don’t grumble part stands out to me. It catches my attention. Yes, I need to stop grumbling every time something goes wrong. The oath part gets glossed over. I don’t make oaths in order to get people to believe me, so I miss the force of the passage. But the real question is: Do I keep my word? Do I keep my word to people? Do I keep my word to God? Am I a man of my word, or am I constantly looking for ways to get out of my commitments? “I didn’t know it was going to be this hard.” “I didn’t realize these circumstances were going to occur.” Or perhaps the worst, “God told me…” What God told you was to be a person who keeps his/her word. What God told you was to be honest. What God told you was that just because keeping your word is inconvenient does not excuse bad behavior.

“Don’t grumble, but above all, tell the truth.” Hmmm… Am I a grumbler? Worse, am I an untrustworthy person who cannot be trusted to keep my word? What does it mean to “establish your hearts?” It means don’t grumble, and tell the truth. Yes Lord, I repent. Grow gratitude and truth telling into my life. I don’t want to be an untrustworthy grumbler. So, here is today’s challenge. Just for today, lets agree to not grumble, and to keep our word. If we stumble, let’s confess it quickly and go back to our agreement. After all, we want to be people who keep our word. Maybe tomorrow we can do it again, and again, and again until it becomes the practice of our life.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

James 5:4 (ESV)
Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

“The wages of the laborers…are crying out against you.” That reminds me of the passage in Genesis when God says to Cain that his brothers blood is “crying to me from the ground” (Gen 4:10 ESV). Sometimes our perspective is too narrow. Every injustice, every murder, every act of violence against the innocent, every unrighteous act cries out to God, and he hears. The fact that we do not see him immediately strike down the perpetrators does not mean that he does not hear or that he does not care. He is simply saying, “Be patient…. Establish your hearts…. Do not grumble” (Jas 5:8-9 ESV). How can he say that? Because, “The Judge is standing at the door” (Jas 5:9 ESV).

We talk about people getting away with crimes, oppression, and injustice. But that is not true. No one gets away with anything. God hears. God keeps good records. God never forgets. God is standing at the door ready to enter and judge. The Scriptures remind us that there is coming a day when “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom 14:10 ESV). When we do, “‘Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:11-12 ESV). We want justice now. We want judgment against them now. God says, “Be patient.”

Patience is an act of trust. It is an act of faith. If we do not really believe that God will handle it then we try to take matters into our own hands. If truly believe that he will take care of things, then we can wait patiently for him. Patience is also a matter of perspective. If we think of these few years called life as everything, then we want God to act now. If we realize that this life of 60, 70, 80, or 90 years is just a drop in the bucket, just the waiting room for the main event, then we can wait patiently. Waiting rooms are rarely fun, but we put up with them because we need to see the doctor, or because when our car is fixed it will run right again. Waiting rooms promise something beyond the waiting room. They are usually worth the wait. I know that we sometimes get impatient and irritable in waiting rooms, but we put up with it because of what is beyond. Life is the waiting room to eternity. Do we trust God or not? Waiting patiently is about faith and perspective. What do you believe? How big is your perspective? God is faithful. We can trust him.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

James 5:13 ESV
         Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 

I watched the movie Amazing Grace yesterday for the first time. It is the story of William Wilberforce’s passionate work to end the slave trade in England. Slave conditions were horrendous. John Newton, author of the song Amazing Grace was a former slave trader. His influence on Wilberforce kept him going. The excuses for the slave trade were as horrendous as the conditions of the slaves. Arguments like the following were repeated until people believed them. “The entire economy of the country will fall apart if we stop slave trade.” “If we don’t do it someone else will.” “The slaves aren’t complaining. Many of them have a better life than the poor here in London.” The rich, the empowered, the privileged were amassing their wealth off the backs of slaves while treating them as less than animals. No one would treat an animal the way the slaves were treated. They were simply an endless, voiceless commodity trafficked out of Africa. It is easy to see in hindsight. It is easy to miss in the present. It is easy to buy into the very same arguments. But that does not justify wrong behavior.

The fact that the slave did not work to procure his/her freedom does not mean that no one else should. James called the privileged out. But he also challenged those who had no voice. What should their proper response be? “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord….be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Jas 5:7-8 ESV). That is hard to do when you are being mistreated. He is not saying that it is wrong for a slave to attempt to procure his freedom. He is not saying that the underprivileged should not try to better themselves. He is saying that when you have no ability or capacity to change your conditions then you need to trust God. Everything will be set right in time.

The privileged, who enjoyed their wealth at the expense of the underprivileged, will one day howl and weep at their loss. The underprivileged, who trusted in God in the midst of pain and loss, will one day see God’s compassion and mercy. So, what is an appropriate response? “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (Jas 5:13 ESV). In pain and in privilege our hearts should turn to God.

Our hope must never be found in stuff, privilege, position, or power. Hope is found in Christ, and in Christ alone. Are you suffering? Pray. Are you enjoying privilege? Sing and praise. It is time to stop putting our hope in stuff and conditions, and refocus on our only real hope. Let Christ be your focus whatever your condition. You may be experiencing societal privilege or societal oppression. You may be experiencing pain or pleasure. You main be experiencing loss or gain, grief or joy. Whatever your condition, let Christ be your focus. He is our only real hope.

Monday, January 16, 2017

James 5:1 (ESV)
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.

This must have sounded so strange to the ears of Jewish believers. To them, having wealth meant that God was pleased with them. Wealth was the measuring stick of one’s relationship with God. The Mosaic Covenant promised blessing for obedience and a curse for disobedience. It was assumed then, that wealth meant blessing. Blessing meant God was pleased with you. It didn’t matter that the wealth was amassed on the backs of those less fortunate. This was the very thing Jesus was addressing when he pointed out the widow who gave her last two coins. For his listeners, poverty meant that God was not pleased with you. Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box” (Mk 12:43 ESV) His words did not make sense to them. That is just not how they understood their world to work.

Too often we have adopted the same mindset without realizing it. We would never say that God is pleased with the rich and displeased with the poor. We would never say it, but we often act as though it is true. Too often our wealth is not a blessing at all. It is a hindrance to truly seeing the blessings of God. Furthermore, we neglect to think of ourselves as wealthy. We look at the uber-wealthy and think of ourselves as normal. Few of us are millionaires. Few of us live in mansions. Few of us fly First Class all over the world. That is what the rich do. We just live in our warm dry homes that have more bedrooms than we need, and well stocked pantries. We fail to see that much of the world is grateful to have any place to sleep, and any food to eat. When James writes about the rich, we are the rich. If you have eaten out in a restaurant in the past week, if you have not worried about whether you would have a warm, dry place to sleep in the past week, if you have not gone to bed hungry every day this past week, then you are the rich.

Please don’t misunderstand me; James is not saying that we need to feel guilty for our wealth. He is saying that we need to make sure that our wealth is not amassed off the backs of those less fortunate. He is saying that if we have people working for us, then we should be paying them a decent wage, and treating them with respect. They too are created in the image of God. He is saying that, “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you” (Jas 5:5-6 ESV). He is saying that we ought to re-evaluate how we have gained our wealth, and how we have used it. We don’t need to feel guilty for our wealth, but neither do we feel superior because of our wealth. Wealth only lasts a lifetime. People last forever. Stuff is just stuff. People are reflections of the Creator. People are the priority.

Today is Martin Luther King Day of Service. We refer to it as Martin Luther King Day, but we often fail to remember that it is officially designated as a Day of Service. Service reflects the priority of people over stuff. How can I reflect the teachings of James 5 and the priority of people over stuff in my life? What is one thing you might do today in response to James 5?

Friday, January 6, 2017

James 4:13-17 (ESV)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

This is a strange paragraph. What does the last verse, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin,” have to do with the rest of the paragraph? The reader is instructed not to presume upon the future. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Life is short and fleet. All of that makes sense, and the James concludes, “So, do what you know is right.” I would have concluded, “So, stop presuming upon tomorrow,” or “So, stop bragging about what your plans,” or “So, stop trusting yourself and start trusting God, realizing that he can change your plans at any moment.” That would seem an appropriate conclusion, but that is not what James says. He says to do what you know is right. It is considered sin if you do not do what you know is right. What’s the connection?

Arrogance is the connection. Arrogance makes plans and expects them to work out without considering that God may have other plans. James warns, “you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” Arrogance not only presumes upon the future, it presumes to determine for itself what is right and wrong. Arrogance knows what God says is right, but chooses to pursue its own will instead. Arrogance asks, “What is right for me?” instead of asking, “What does God say is right?” Arrogance is the connection between presumption and disobedience.

How many times have we heard the statement, “You have to find what is right for you.” But is that true? If by that you mean that you have to discover what God is uniquely leading you to do, then it might be a right statement. If, on the other hand, you mean that you have to discover what feels right to you, or what you decide is right, then you are missing the point. Life is not about us. Truth, morality, obedience, and sin are not based on us. They are based on God and his will. It is arrogance to presume anything else.

The Greek word translated arrogance in James 4:16 refers to a quack “making empty boasts about having ‘cures’ to rid people of all their ills.” It is a snake-oil salesman. It is a person making empty promises with bold arrogance. It sounds like some preachers we hear today. I chatted with a man on a shuttle bus the other day. He was quite taken with a preacher he had heard. The preacher promised that all we have to do is speak the word out loud and we can bring it to pass. The man spoke blessing on his business and the next day he was offered a new job. This validated, in his mind, the truth of the preacher. The problem is, it is really bad theology, and there was absolutely not gospel in the message. The man I talked with was really taken with the preacher, and with the power of his own words, but there was no mention of Jesus. There was no mention of grace. There was no mention of the cross. There was no mention of life beyond this life. It was a gospel of arrogant self-focus. I can’t help but think that James would not approve.

Arrogance takes lots of different forms. It presumes upon the future. It decides for itself what is right and wrong. Ultimately it puts us in the place of God. In the name of faith, we develop a self-centered independence and expect that God is pleased. God-centered faith begins with humility, not arrogance. God-centered faith starts with dependence, not independence. God-centered faith begins with God. Too often our faith begins with us. God forgive us. Today may we walk in humble dependence, recognizing that every moment is ultimately in the hands of God. So how do we live in that kind of system? Do what you know is right. “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (Jas 4:17). Anything else is arrogance.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

James 4:5 (ESV)
Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

In English this verse reads fairly clearly, yet in the Greek it is a difficult verse to translate. There are a variety of different possible meanings. One possibility is what the ESV seems to make clear, that is that God is jealous over us. Whether because of his Holy Spirit who dwells in us, or our own spirit, God “yearns jealously” over us. This leads me to two observations. First, the context seems to support this idea that God is jealous over us. In the following verses, God calls believers to submit to him and draw near to him. The fact that God desires us like a lover desires his love is not language we commonly use today. In fact, in a sex saturated society it almost sounds immoral. Yet God “yearns jealously” over us. Exodus 20:5 affirms this, “You shall not bow down to them (idols) or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.”

The second observation is that the Greek word translated “jealous” carries a slightly different implication than how we normally think of the word. Jealousy in our language and culture generally is directed at our love. It usually carries negative feelings toward a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse who is being draw emotionally to another. The Greek word, however, carries negative feelings toward the one drawing the love away. It is a directed not toward our love, but toward the other lover. God’s jealousy of us does not direct negative feelings toward us, but toward the one who is trying to steal us away from him. James wrote in this chapter that “Friendship with the world is enmity toward God” (Jas 4:4), yet God’s ill will is not toward us, but toward the world, the flesh, and the Devil. So, if God is not angry with us, what is he doing? He is pouring out more grace upon us. “But he gives more grace” (Jas 4:6a).

We have a God who passionately loves us. He hates those things that draw us away from him yet he continues to love us. He pours out his grace in our lives as we humble ourselves before him. It is difficult to believe that he loves us this much. It is difficult to believe that God is actually jealous over me. It is difficult to believe that I don’t have to somehow earn his favor and approval. It is hard for us to accept undeserved favor. That is why it takes humility. Our self-sufficient pride so often keeps us from simply receiving his love and acceptance.

What an incredible truth to start out a new year on. God loves me! What more is there to say? I can receive it and revel in it, or I can refuse to believe it. I can let my heart be drawn away by my passions and desires to other gods, but he still loves me, and he give more grace. It is said that a great theologian was asked what he had learned in all his years. He responded, “Jesus love me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Today, take a moment to contemplate the first two lines of each verse from the hymn, Jesus, Lover of My Soul:

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly

Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;

Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in Thee I find;

Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...