Psalm 51, Day 3

Devotional for Wednesday, May 20

Psalm 51:7-9
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
    you have broken me—
    now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
    Remove the stain of my guilt.

At this point in the psalm, David seeks not only forgiveness, he seeks what we Methodists call sanctification. He wants release not only from the sins committed, he wants to be released from the underlying cause of sin, the basic brokenness we all experience as human beings.

To be transformed in such a way is an ongoing process. The trials we undergo in this life can actually help, assuming we use them as an opportunity to turn to God and trust in God to provide a path through them.

In Revelation 7, we hear of those “who died in the great tribulation,” and we see the cleansing power of Christ’s sacrifice. “They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white,” we are told. Jesus is the answer in the most difficult of times.

We also see that as painful as our trials and brokenness can be, there is the possibility of joy as we allow God to cleanse us. We have hope.

Meditate today on hope in the midst of repentance and sorrow. We’ll explore sanctification further tomorrow.

Lord, you not only save us, you heal us in the here and now. May your work be complete in this life. Amen.

Psalm 51, Day 1

Devotional for Monday, May 18

We’re going to spend this week exploring Psalm 51, which gives us an opportunity to take our sins before the Lord and seek forgiveness.

This is a psalm designed to give us a new start when we find ourselves broken and ashamed. The original context of the psalm is very specific—its ancient instructional heading says, “For the choir director: A psalm of David, regarding the time Nathan the prophet came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.”

Adultery wasn’t David’s only sin. In trying to cover up what he had done, King David also attempted to hide his transgression by arranging for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, to die in battle.

Psalm 51:1-3
Have mercy on me, O God,
    because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
    blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
    Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
    it haunts me day and night.

Take a little time to meditate on what it means to seek God’s mercy for even the most terrible sins.

Once we are ready to ask for mercy, our hearts at least are in the right place—we understand the Creator is over and above all things, the only one with the power to restore the disobedient.

As Christians, we have a fuller picture of just how compassionate God is. Centuries after David’s transgression, God comes among the Davidic line and the rest of the Jews in flesh, as Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. We look to the cross and believe, and the stain of our sins is blotted out!

There is a first step toward forgiveness, though. We must truly repent of the sins we have committed; our regret must be so great that we turn away from what we have done.

Lord, where we now stray from your will, may sadness and regret build in us so we turn away from what displeases you. Amen.

Bruised Grapes

grapes-4495944_1280

Devotional for Tuesday, April 14

Colossians 3:12-17 (NLT)

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

With these words in Colossians, Paul offers us a simple formula for getting along as a church. Forgiveness, rooted in love, is at the core of his message.

Just as we are to love one another, we are to forgive each other. Admittedly, there are times when people living within the body of Christ sin in such a way that they must be removed from the body, for the safety of others. But even then, those who remain must develop forgiveness for the offenders, for their own peace of mind if for no other reason.

Paul, however, seems to be talking about a simpler situation. He’s pointing out that none of us is perfect. We have our flaws. We may get angry, tired or confused. We may fail to diligently focus on God’s word for guidance and make some poor assumptions or conclusions. We may not listen hard enough. We may not breathe deeply enough before giving a reply.

In other words, we are a collection of human beings broken by sin. If we were a cluster of grapes, pretty much all of us would be bruised.

That’s why Jesus Christ had to come and die for us. As we believe in Christ’s work on the cross, the Holy Spirit does go to work inside of us, and over time, as we let the Spirit work, we may find those flaws lessened or even erased. But in the meantime, we’re together in church, flaws and all.

Learning to say to ourselves “I’m going to let that go” helps keep peace in a church, or for that matter, at work or home. We don’t want to become punching bags for bad behavior—for those situations, we have Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 18:15-17—but when we let slide a perceived slight now and then, we strengthen the community as a whole.

Forgiveness also helps people who are working on their flaws to realize they are in a safe place, a community where the grace of God meets them repeatedly. There’s something comforting about that moment when you wince, realizing the wrong words have again popped out of your mouth, and your brother or sister in Christ quickly moves on, ignoring what just happened.

In short, we love each other the way Jesus loves us, no perfection required.

Lord, thank you for the grace we receive and the chance to return that grace to others. Amen.

 

Betrayed

JudasDeparts

Judas departing. A detail from Carl Bloch’s “Last Supper,” late 19th century.


Devotional for Wednesday of Holy Week (April 8)

John 13:21-27 (NLT)

Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and he exclaimed, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!”

The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table. Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” So that disciple leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.”


If you have a strong reaction to this story, you’ve probably been betrayed. A co-worker, a friend, a relative, a spouse—someone not only let you down, the person actually turned on you, consciously violating a long-established trust.

And the closer the relationship, the worse the pain caused by the betrayal. It usually is hard for the victim of betrayal to let go, to forgive.

Most cultures hold betrayers in very low esteem. In Dante’s fictional account of hell, punishments grew progressively more severe as one moved inward through the demonic realm. The most inner circle was for betrayers who remained frozen in painfully contorted positions. And in the very center, Satan munched on the people Dante considered to be the three greatest traitors: Judas Iscariot, Brutus and Cassius.

In contrast to our personal and cultural reactions, Jesus seemed resigned to betrayal. Of course, by this point in the story, he knew exactly where he was headed, probably down to the minute.

Jesus didn’t do anything to change Judas when he gave him the morsel of bread. Judas’ heart was already turned toward sin. In sharing the bread, Jesus simply identified who among the 12 was most deeply broken. The gift of the gravy-dipped bread seems poignant, though.

To eat with someone on such a night—in this case, to literally break bread—is an intimate moment. To compound the intimacy, earlier in the evening Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, Judas included. But none of those acts of love could turn the betrayer from his plan.

On that terrible night, Judas truly was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And once your mind is so firmly set against God’s will, it is easy for Satan or one of his minions to enter and lead the way.

I do wonder about something, though. The Bible tells us that Judas died shortly after the betrayal. (The accounts in Matthew 27 and Acts 1 are difficult to reconcile, but in each one he ends up dead.) Had Judas lived, how would the resurrected Jesus have treated his betrayer?

The closest analogy we have is Peter, who proved to be the worst of the deniers once Jesus had been arrested. Near the end of the Gospel of John, we see Jesus forgive and restore Peter. Again, the scene was intimate, on a beach near a charcoal fire, a breakfast of fish and bread cooked and waiting for some very ashamed men.

Had Judas lived, carrying with him the remorse and repentance he seems to bear in Matthew 27:3-4, I suspect he would have found Jesus’ forgiveness, too.

Such radical forgiveness would be typical of the Savior we serve.

Lord, where we have been betrayed, let us find a way to forgive, and where we have betrayed others, may we be forgiven. Amen.