Psalm 55 Reflection

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“Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me.” – Psalm 55:1-2a

“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me.  Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.  I said, ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest.  I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.’” – Psalm 55:4-8

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.  But you, God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of decay; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days.  But as for me, I trust in you.” – Psalm 55:22-23

Sitting at the stone desert circle,
the fire burns on its pillar.
The smoke rising, the embers burning,
the fire is small,
yet burns with strength and eternal endurance.

I stand up from the bench on which I am sitting,
from looking intently upon God’s fire,
and look to the horizon.

Dark clouds, heavy with rain,
envelop the barren horizon.
The sky is thick and grey.

From the distance, over the expanse,
across the dirt, sand, shrubs, and rocks,
I smell the rain.
Humidity presses against my skin.

Amid the empty desert,
secure on God’s stone foundation,
I watch the sky grow dark.
I wait upon the impending storm to assail our position.

The fire burns bright and strong,
the Spirit’s flame distinguished against the darkening sky,
contrasted against the impending battery of rain, wind, and thunder.

The storm is upon us.
Rain pummels the desert sand.
Wind beats the brush against the dirt.
Thunder breaks overhead.
Lightning flares in rage across the now blackening sky.

Water rises against the foundation.
The desert, a black ocean,
with waves darkened like oil,
emerging from the depths of the earth.

The wind riles the ink-like, glimmer-less water,
agitating it into madness,
enjoining it to rise, towering above us;
in the storm’s ire, charging it to crash against us.

The sky coal, the water oil,
the earth dark and outraged,
there is no light to look upon but God’s fire.

Its flame burns tall into the sky,
swelling in intensity,
point by point,
matching the storm’s ferocity, strength, and violence.

The stone foundation,
inundated in the storm,
is washed of its desert sand,
its true character and integrity revealed.

Standing upon the rock, peering to its edge,
I see the eternal abyss below,
haunting the depths of the water’s surface.

Fear enters my mind.
Possibilities emerge from its pathways.
Knocked over, pushed to the edge,
my fingers clutching the lip at the edge of this rock,
mustering strength to reach up my hand for Jesus to take hold,
yet my strength finished;
losing my grasp, tumbling deep into the abyss,
forever falling, hopeless.

Water rising, crashing,
seeking to intimidate any who would stand on God’s foundation,
against the brutality of the rain, wind, thunder, and lightning.

I look to the center of the rock,
to the radiant ferocity of its blinding flame,
the illumination of its brilliant pillar of fire.
The storm, in all its indignation,
unable to affect God’s signal in the darkness,
exasperated.

Saturated though I am,
my skin and clothes deluged with the storm’s rain, wind, and waves,
compelled to kneel in reverence and awe,
I look towards the blinding fire’s vivid light before me.
Its tower rising above the clouds,
God sees into the light, beyond the tempest’s edge.

Like Peter, focused on Jesus standing before him,
in the darkest of nights, terrified,
stepping out of the boat,
battered by the squall’s wind, waves, and rain.

Stepping in faith, during the storm.
Overcoming the abyss to where God is calling.
Walking into the waves, understanding the pit that lies beneath.

Focused on Christ.
Knowing his fire is upon you.
Lighting the way before you.
To see Christ and look to him alone,
despite the distraction around you.

Jesus, let your fire fill me.
Let the brilliance of your Spirit strengthen me,
to step into the darkness of the storm.

I step.
A valley opens in front of me.
The sky clear, the pasture green,
God’s creatures grazing in its peace.
The storm gone.
Mountains beset the pasture before me,
framing the meadow to the east and west.

To step into the savagery of the storm,
God with you,
is to step into the valley.
Knowing the fear of the pit underneath,
the anxiety of drowning,
the doubt of falling into a depth with no end,
floundering with no hope.

Yet to look at Jesus and step anyway.
Yet to know the Spirit is with you and step anyway.

You feel the water give way beneath you.
Despair rushes into the cracks of your soul.
Yet an arm reaches out towards you,
grabbing your arm, unrelenting,
strong, and not letting go.
Holding you, bringing you up.

Jesus, with you.

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Psalm 54 Reflection

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“For he has delivered me from all my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.” – Psalm 54:7

Sitting in the desert, there is a clear sky above.  A circle, elevated, maybe built up a few inches from the sand, rocks, and shrubs, is laid with stone, constructed in the desert, built by the work of Father, Spirit, and Son.  The desert is flat and far from civilization, with sand, dirt, rocks, and shrubs for as far as the eye can see.  One stone bench, set in a circle, is on the perimeter of the circular foundation, with a grey stone pillar, a couple feet in diameter, built in the center, a few feet high, with a fire burning atop, so that the fire burns at the same level as the bench.  Embers glow hot at the base of the small fire, so hot they would sear and scorch the top of the stone pillar if they were not from God – the burning fire that doesn’t burn.  Smoke rises, drifting towards me, as the dry desert kindling is set up in the shape of a teepee above these hot, burning, foundational embers, sending smoke rising through the gaps in the teepee of desert sticks. 

Sitting, waiting for Jesus.  Knowing that his Spirit is here.  Learning how to sit in the Spirit’s presence.

Jesus, deliver me.
Jesus, bring my heart your deliverance.
Jesus, let me sit in your presence.
In the desert, let me breathe in the smoke of your Spirit.
Let me breathe deeply your cleansing Spirit.
The Spirit that comes forth from the very fire of who you are.
Jesus, put the glowing, burning embers –
the inner foundations of your holy fire – on my heart.
Let it burn my sins away.
Let it burn through the hardness of my heart.
Put the ember on my tongue,
the burning coal you gave to your prophet Isaiah,
and let it sear through the pride and arrogance of my actions and words.
Let the coal make my heart humble.
Jesus, bring healing to my life,
the healing of your holiness,
your holy, burning coal upon me.
Deliver me.
Only your love brings lasting deliverance.
Give my heart the reality of your love.
Make your love more than just knowledge.
Make your love a reality for my heart.
A bright, fire-ful, burning stone that is placed on my physical heart,
piercing it with your powerful love,
melting through the shell of my calloused heart,
penetrating to the core of my soul,
the deepest, most hidden part of my very soul.
Pick up the bow you hung in the sky, once again.
Take your arrow and make it a weapon of your convicting love.
Put the tip in your Spirit’s river of molten fire.
Aim it towards me in my fearfulness.
And shoot it straight through my heart.
I ask you, Jesus, to make your love that kind of reality,
imprinting itself upon my soul, eternally, irreversibly.
Deliver me from my troubles.
Let me live in the triumph of your love.

Psalm 42 Reflection

 

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“Why so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” – Psalm 42:11

As I pray, I focus on and imagine simply sitting in God’s presence and waiting on Jesus.  Prayer is not one-sided.  We must focus more on listening to God in prayer, and not so much speaking at God.  When we listen, then we can speak to and with Jesus.

As I pray, the Spirit leads me to the desert: a palette mixed with red, brown, tan, and grey, dotted with rocks, shrubs, and brush among the sand and dirt.  I go from sitting on a bench on the perimeter of a small stone circle built in the desert, with a fire of dried, windswept kindling resting on a grey stone pillar at the circle’s center, smoke rising, and burning embers at the fire’s base, to the setting of God’s garden.  The life-giving tree of God is at its center, with vibrant shades of green and bright colors filling this palette.  Breathing deeply, the air is cool, clear, and cleansing.  God’s stream of cool, clear, cleansing, and life-giving water flows next to the meadow, overshadowed by the far-reaching shade of God’s tree of life.

The deer drinking from the stream,
the roaring waterfall below;
it’s the river of your life, Jesus.
Wash me in your water.
Let the flood of your waterfall come over me.
Let me stand in its water.
It is your life, Jesus, flowing through the land,
giving nourishment to your land and all your creatures,
winding through your plains, mountains, forests, and valleys,
flowing peacefully next to your tree of life,
teeming with life,
vibrant and abundant in every branch and leaf.
I rest against its trunk,
my back against its bark,
my hands in the soft grass,
sitting under your shade,
the sky blue above,
the air cool around me.
Give me peace in your life, Jesus.
Give me rest.
Why should I be downcast,
even when life has its pains and sorrows,
and the world so full of sin,
when I can rest in your land,
wash in your waters,
drink from your streams,
and sit under your tree?
As the deer pants for streams of water,
my soul longs for you, O God.
The deer pants,
but finds rest, refreshment, and safety
as it drinks from your streams,
and so my soul that longs for you
also finds refuge in you, Jesus.


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An Excerpt from “An Intertwined Reality: Short Stories for the Already but Not Yet”

The following piece is one of 14 short stories I’ve included in my most recently published book, “An Intertwined Reality: Short Stories for the Already but Not Yet.” It will be available soon for $7.99 in paperback and $4.99 as an ebook on both the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites! Read more about it and my other book, “The Memoirs of J.W. Bresee: 1897-1906,” here.

Share this short story with your friends and family; let’s build excitement for “An Intertwined Reality”!

The Ammonite Messenger

Nehemiah squinted his eyes as he scanned the far reaches of the horizon. The small outline of a man riding a horse appeared, silhouetted against the reddening sky. The rider was still a good distance away; if it was not for the setting sun casting shadows over the landscape, Nehemiah would have been able to see the entire expanse clearly in the dry air.

The horse kicked up a cloud of dust as the rider disappeared below the horizon, blurring the sharp contrast between him and the sinking red desert sun. Nehemiah faintly discerned their shape racing toward them among the shadows. They were at the borders of what was, to Nehemiah’s ancestors, once the northern kingdom; it was now divided between various pagan rulers as the conquering Persians split up their territories. First the Assyrians swept over the land, then the Babylonians, and then the Medes, and then the Persians. The Babylonians transported much of the southern kingdom’s population back to their capital and into diaspora; the Persians, generations later, allowed the exiles to finally return to their home.

Nehemiah, serving in the court of the Persian King Artaxerxes, petitioned the ruler to allow him to return to the land of his ancestors in order to rebuild Jerusalem. The King even gave Nehemiah, along with the others going with him, several of his prized Persian horses for their journey home. The Babylonians and the Persians, extending their empire to the west, brought many more of these exceptional animals with them into the area.

The pounding hooves thundered closer. “Halt,” the rider yelled. “Halt!” The horse, a large, black, muscled beast, finally stopped in front of Nehemiah and the others. The trail of settling dust stretched all the way back to the horizon; the bottom edge of the sun was just beginning to dip below it. “You are now in the land of Ammon. By order of the governor of the land, Tobiah the Ammonite, installed by the Persian king himself, you must make yourself known!”

Nehemiah did not speak a word, but looked sternly at the rider from atop his own horse. He knew that the surrounding provinces would not like the idea of Jerusalem’s restoration. And even despite Artaxerxes’ blessing, Nehemiah realized that the bordering territories would do everything they could to stop them. They did not want to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt.

Nehemiah reached into the pouch beside him and pulled out a piece of parchment. As he handed the letter to the man on the black horse, the rider recognized Artaxerxes’ seal. Lifting it up to catch the remaining sunlight so that he could read, the man began to speak.

“To the governors of the province Beyond the River; to Sanballat the Horonite; to Tobiah the Ammonite; to Asaph the Keeper of the King’s Forest:

“My servant Nehemiah has served with much honor in my court as my cupbearer. He has asked me to allow him to return to the land of his ancestors to rebuild their city of Jerusalem. Because he has demonstrated nothing but great loyalty to me, I have granted him this request.”

The rider stopped reading out loud and studied the remainder in silence. Nehemiah continued to look at the man as the sunlight waned.

A minute later, the rider stopped reading the parchment. He had a disgusted, almost angry, look on his face.

“It appears you have done well for yourself in Artaxerxes’ court, Nehemiah. The King’s favor is upon you and this little project of yours. I hope you know that, because his favor is going to be the only favor you will get. Tobiah the Ammonite will grant you safe passage through his land, but you will get nothing else from him. And you will not get any help from Sanballat the Horonite either. Whether you have this letter or not, we do not want you Jews rebuilding Jerusalem. We will do everything we can to stop it from happening. We will wage war against you if it comes to it. Try to move one stone in place and we will attack.” The rider paused, shoving the letter back into Nehemiah’s open hand. “Go back to Artaxerxes, Nehemiah. We do not want you here. Your people do not even want you here.”

The Ammonite messenger, unhappy about the prospect of Jerusalem being rebuilt, picked up the reins of his black horse and pulled them to the side. The horse snorted as it reared its head back. The rider slapped the reins down and the horse bolted off in the direction the messenger came from. Nehemiah watched the man disappear over the horizon in a cloud of dust, taking the last of the red sun with him behind the skyline.

One of the men with Nehemiah turned to him in the fading light. “What will we do Nehemiah?”

“What will we do? We will arm the people building the walls! Jerusalem will be rebuilt. We have no need to fear pagan rulers and their threats. They worship powerless idols while we worship the true God.”

Nehemiah leaned forward, placing his hand at the base of the horse’s mane. He and the others moved forward, beginning their trek through the hostile land as they continued their journey to Jerusalem.

“The Babbling Brutes of Babel”

The Babbling Brutes of Babel
by Eric Verbovszky

I hear there is a fable
of the babbling brutes of Babel.

They forgot they were told to scatter,
so in Mesopotamia, they gathered.

They said, “Let’s build a city!
And a tower that’s in no way mini!”

Mixing the mortar, firing the bricks,
they really thought they were slick.

But there was one who was Godly;
he saw that their work wasn’t shoddy.

Though, seeing their hearts misplaced,
he finally judged this case.

Sowing people all over the earth,
new tribes and new tongues were birthed.

Given so many opportunities to learn,
our neighbor’s love, we can earn.

Humanity was forced to be given a lift,
but we finally made use of God’s gift.

And, of the babbling brutes of Babel?
Their little project was decisively tabled.

*This is a poem I wrote based on Genesis 11:1-9; although pride is one factor to consider, it is not the motivating factor for God to scatter the people as it is often preached about. Rather, the people defied God’s command to spread out over the earth and make use of God’s gift of creation (Gen. 1:28, 9:1,7). Moreover, God had already seen the evil that occurred in sinful hearts opposed to God; it got so bad, in fact, that God wiped the earth clean with a flood and simply started over with Noah and his family!

Scattering the people was an act of God’s prevenient grace, stopping a unified people with hearts bent toward evil, selfishness, and idolatry.   Finally, diverse people groups with different languages, while keeping sinful people separate and perhaps providing checks and balances to greater evil, also gives us opportunities to learn how to more deeply love one another by getting to know so many of God’s communities around the world.   God loves variety! This is demonstrated in the creation account; giving humanity languages is another example of God’s beauty in diversity!

Babel, meaning ‘Gate of God’ and nothing to do with confusion, could potentially be the earliest city of Babylon. If it is, it is probably buried under at least 5,000 years of Babylonian history. Archaeological excavations to find this early and unfinished foundation would be incredibly difficult.   Noah’s descendants most likely migrated to Mesopotamia after traveling around the Ararat mountains in and around eastern Turkey, settling in what they called the plain of Shinar before God scattered them.

Sumerian ziggurat engineering resembles the building techniques discussed in Genesis 11:1-9.   Noah’s ancestors may be the very first Sumerians or even their predecessors.   The earliest Gilgamesh accounts, which include stories of Utnapishtim who closely resembles Noah, appear during the 4th millenium B.C. with the early Sumerians.   Noah’s descendants would have carried his story with them as they settled there; this story would have merged with Sumerian culture and the Gilgamesh Epic through history.

tele-pictionary

Who ate my chicken? No one knows why we eat turkey at Thanksgiving. An Indian is asking a pilgrim about Thanksgiving? An Indian meets a pilgrim and asks about a big feast to give thanks. The X-Men attacked Batman and Superman. Batman and Robin are beginning to question why the trolls are attacking them. Superman married a bird and the bird gave birth to kittens. Superman (after degrading his costume) is a therapist to a crazy cat-man in a church. The snack that smiles back…goldfish. I love me some goldfish. I love fishing off the dock. The angry cat dances in front of the burning boat. The catman sang aboard the burning ship. The cat’s meow. My mother wears a bad toupee. A kid is mortified when he sees a scary lady’s…mouth/teeth. A giant girl is chasing a sad little boy. Imma eat you for breaking my daughter’s heart. Somebody barfed on my tilt-a-whirl. Someone screamed at my giant jawbreaker. One guy gets candy. Other guy is mad. Give me my lollipop! Two kittens sleeping in a box. Two sleeping cats are in a bed dreaming of candy. I’m ignoring you now. The goldfish ate the bear. A giant goldfish is eating a miniature sized bear with sharp nails. A giant goldfish stares at a baby bird. Two dogs are sleeping waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. Two dogs are barking at Santa’s Christmas tree. Santa, gimme all you got. Giant Santa, you’re two months late. Harry Potter fights the zombie bunnies. Harry Potter killed the rabbit. I thought it would be cool to decapitate the Easter Bunny. A man stabs a bunny with a sword. We’re just two lost souls living in a fish bowl. The fairly odd parents tricked me! Shut up, you stupid baby! A lady is overwhelmed when she sees her baby needs to be changed. The library was closed during the tornado ripping through town. The tornado is coming and the store is closed. There is a tornado outside of the abandoned convenience store. Release the kracken! The killer monster squid is killing my enemies boat #yolo #awesome #pirates. A guy is sailing the sea when a giant worm tries to eat him. Loch Ness monster attacks innocent faceless man. Save the whales! Two people are lost at sea. A boy doesn’t know the alphabet nor does his friend. I hate working as a clown. Ouch! That hurt! He took my jumprope. I can’t jumprope; I hate you. The alien gave birth to a human and the umbilical cord is still attached. The beach has a lot of turtles. Turtles go to the ocean. The tortoise is slow. The turtle is vomiting on the track and he also in last place. A woman was really mad because she forgot to put on her blue shoes for her wedding. Girl is mad pastor loves Jesus more than her. Is this the red cross? I think that’s a hospital but I’m not entirely sure. Dumbledore is eating ice cream with Harry Potter. Harry Potter and Dumbledore eat ice cream together. Harry Potter loves eating ice cream; it cures his emotional distress. I eat my cereal with two spoons at once. The ice cream truck ran out of ice cream. Protesting against school! No more school! Two people are attempting to burn a school down. The Jersey Shore cast enjoys the occasional poetry reading. An alien has an identity crisis. An alien is having a mid-life crisis in a coffin as his king tries to figure out a way to help him. An alien wakes up from a coma and the king is confused.

Someone barfed on my ferris wheel.

“The Spotted Sea Trout”

This is a small glimpse of a 160 mile kayaking trip from Carlisle, Pennsylvania to halfway down the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland’s eastern shore. My friend Alex and I made this journey in May 2009 after my graduation from Dickinson College; Alex graduated from Dickinson College in May 2008.

I looked down into the blue waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Salt was in the air as the sub-aquatic vegetation pressed against the ceiling of the tide, almost yearning to escape the two feet of water still remaining in the bay. There was a bubble at the surface. As I turned my gaze from the horizon to the water, my mind soon processed the Spotted Sea Trout that had come so close to my kayak.

I took a few more seconds to contemplate my encounter with the fish. A few miles behind me was the mouth of the Susquehanna River. Beyond that was the Mason-Dixon line and Pennsylvania. Even further upstream was Harrisburg. And if you headed west somewhere around there, you would find the Conodoguinet Creek, the town of Carlisle, and Dickinson College. It was there that Alex and I began this tour just a few days before and maybe a hundred miles earlier.

The fish had disappeared; the ripples had dissipated. Any remnants of its presence were long gone. I once again returned my eyes to the land ahead. The fish was already at home safely in the undergrowth, yet we were still paddling our kayaks toward a place to make our home. Humidity masked the eastern shore as Alex and I were miles away from land in every direction. Only a faint breeze brought relief to the late afternoon heat as the sun continued it blazing journey to the west.

Rocks sat on a barge to my left; a small yacht was only a little farther. Two or three sailboats dotted the water ahead of us. It passed through my mind once or twice that they were probably wondering what two small human-powered vessels were doing out in the middle of the bay at that time. Our yellow and orange boats floated in contrast to the blue salt-water.

Picking up my paddle, I powered through my sore shoulders and the pain of the blisters forming on my hand. My sunburnt neck and face weren’t bothering me yet. I looked over at Alex and pulled my paddle through the water, propelling my kayak a few feet toward the land that never seemed to get any closer. Our short pause had come to an end. Although we joined the Spotted Sea Trout in his home for a couple minutes, we were still making the trip toward ours.

Maybe the Spotted Sea Trout would join us.

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