With Praise and Confession

Devotional for Saturday, May 16

Psalm 66:16-19 (NLT)
Come and listen, all you who fear God,
    and I will tell you what he did for me.
For I cried out to him for help,
    praising him as I spoke.
If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened.
But God did listen!
    He paid attention to my prayer.

People like to hear life lessons from someone who has experienced success. The psalmist here lays out a pattern of prayer that proved effective for him.

As he went to God, seeking relief, he remembered that our first task is to praise God. The relationship between God and creation always has to be in proper context; God is over all things, and we are made to praise! Our praise may be expressed in different ways, depending on our limited abilities, but we need to use the talents we have been given.

Have you ever considered opening your personal prayer time with a song of praise to God, or a poem about God, or a small work of art glorifying God, assuming you are equipped in such ways? If you lack such talents, how might you praise God with the talents you do have?

As Jesus noted during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where the people fail to cry out, the rocks may take up the cause. Praise of God is hard-wired into creation, and we need to remember this truth whenever we turn our faces to God.

Confession also was an important part of the psalmist’s prayer. We likely have not achieved anything close to holiness. It helps to confess our sins before God, acknowledging we are unworthy to be before him.

Centuries after the psalmist wrote his words, God humbled himself to take on flesh and die for our sins, and our creator is pleased when we express humility, too.

Praise and confession are key components to a reverent approach to God. God paid attention in the psalmist’s day, and he is paying attention now.

Lord, may we always draw near your throne in a respectful and humble way, and may what we ask be aligned with your teachings and your will. Amen.

Power Source

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Devotional for Tuesday, May 5

Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)

Now may the God of peace—
    who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great Shepherd of the sheep,
    and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—
may he equip you with all you need
    for doing his will.
May he produce in you,
    through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him.
    All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.

Let’s start with some questions for meditation. Do you remember how to breathe while you meditate? I would suggest taking a minute or two to consider each of these questions.

From where does my power come?

Do I do God’s will in all things, at all times?

In following God’s will, do I produce goodness, the kind of goodness that glorifies God?

When I have failed to do God’s will, did I trust in a different source of power?

We are promised so much when we enter a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That salvific moment is not a one-time, historical event in our lives—it is the beginning of our ongoing access to God’s life-changing grace.

The fancy Methodist word for this process is “sanctification.” Each day, as we allow God’s grace to change us, we become more like what we were meant to be before sin muddied our images. We enter this process when we pray, by reading God’s word, when we gather in fellowship, through the taking of the sacraments, and by other activities where we make ourselves open and vulnerable to our loving Savior.

It is exciting news for believers, and yet, it is one of the more difficult truths to trust. Sanctification doesn’t happen all at once, and too often, we begin to look around for other sources of power. The world offers us a lot of possibilities.

I won’t try to list examples. Instead, I’ll let you watch for them today. Pay attention: How many times today will the world offer you the chance to improve yourself, usually to someone else’s profit?

Remember, someone else already paid the price, in the process tapping for us the power of eternity, drawing divinity into our lives now. Through the ever-present Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ gives us all we need.

Lord, as an encouragement, we humbly seek a new experience of your grace today. Amen.

Psalm 23, Day 2

Devotional for Tuesday, April 28

Our devotionals this week are all from the 23rd Psalm, “A Psalm of David,” considered in small meditative bites.

Verses 2-3a
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.

Certainly, the shepherd urges us forward, for our own benefit and for the larger benefit of the kingdom. (Never forget, our shepherd is also a king!) Following him, we can grow tired. But there always is rest to come.download

The need for contemplative rest—Sabbath—is built into the very fabric of the universe. And if we trust God’s plan, we can gain much from the times of rest we are offered.

There is sustenance in God’s word, as rich and nutritious to our souls as green meadows are to the sheep. By consuming what we find in Scripture, we grow.

We also drink from the stream of life when we surrender ourselves to God’s grace, poured out through a variety of openings. Our prayers, our time in communion, and our fellowship with one another are just a few examples, and enough grace pours forth through these encounters to soak us thoroughly.

In the right cycle of service and rest, we grow spiritually stronger over time, even as our physical vigor fades. God always is willing to give us more than we have given. We simply must remember to stop and receive.

Lord, help me to recognize when you place those moments of rest before me, and allow me to grow through the influence of your Spirit as I rest. Amen.

Bruised Grapes

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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.

 

First Things First

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Devotional for Monday of Holy Week (April 6)

Note: An online prayer room will be available this evening at 6 p.m. Go to https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/607049869 to join, or dial in at (646) 749-3122, and then use this access code: 607-049-869.

John 12:1-11 (NLT)

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.

But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.

Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.


Yes, we are to care for the poor. Yes, we are to do all sorts of good works. We should commit a significant portion of our resources to the work Jesus calls us to do, caring for people living on the edge of ruin and death.

In this story, however, is a remarkable idea, one that even some very good-hearted people might find confusing. Honoring Jesus Christ takes precedence over all other motivations and actions.

The story of Mary anointing Jesus is a story of extravagant thanks. Jesus had recently restored to life the brother of Mary and Martha, after Lazarus had decomposed in a tomb for four days.

Mary took what was probably her life savings, her security, and used it all at once to honor the one who had granted this miracle. The stench of death had been the sisters’ great fear; now, a perfumed declaration of joy filled the room, emanating from the one who had driven death away. If you’ve never smelled spikenard, know that it is sweet and musky, an earthy, lively odor. Try to imagine peat from the Garden of Eden.

Even though Judas’ motivation likely was theft, some people might agree with his stated objection—the pouring out of all that nard in one place seems like an awful waste! These would be people who take a humanist approach to solving the problems of the world, saying if people would just act right and do enough good, with enough efficiency, most of the problems of the world would go away.

Christians see that as a cart-before-horse assertion, however. God is our motivator. God provides the power. In John 17:20-26, we hear Jesus root his relationship in the Father, and then Jesus prays that we will be similarly rooted in the Father and Son.

Even altruistic actions properly begin with an understanding of who we are in relation to God. If we are to develop that relationship, we need to stop occasionally and give extravagant and even inefficient thanks. Then, rightly motivated, we will see God pour grace into us until it spills out of our church and onto the world.

In fact, grace can arrive in such abundance that efficiency becomes at most a side issue. Remember the stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes? All those leftovers indicate efficiency was not something the disciples needed during the distribution.

Great works will happen through churches that put Christ first. We hold on to God, the anchor of all altruism, and then we are able to pull back from the brink people living on the edge of ruin and death.

Lord, we offer thanks for who you are, and we consider in our hearts what we might do today to show extravagant thanks. May we revel in the inefficiency of it all. Amen.

 

Take Care

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Devotional for Tuesday, March 31

Ephesians 2:1-10 (NLT)

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.


It’s good in any circumstance to pause and remember who we are and what we believe.

Most of you reading this can call yourselves children of God. That is, you have accepted the gift of God given through Jesus Christ. You have professed that you believe Christ’s death on the cross was real and effective for undoing all your sins. It was an act of faith on your part, made possible by the grace God always is pouring into a broken, sinful world. Even before we turn to God, he makes it possible for us to sense his divine presence.

You made that profession of faith, and God poured out his saving grace upon you, snatching you from the power of sin and death. God’s grace continues to bathe you in his life-changing love. As you stay engaged with God through the Bible, in prayer, and in fellowship with other Christians, you each day become more able to love as Jesus loves.

You are a truly blessed person—you have a unique joy in this life, in good times or bad, and eternal bliss and communion with God in the life to come.

Both you and I need to remember these glorious truths. When we are under stress and confused, it is distinctly possible we can stray from what we have become through Christ. Our routines are disrupted, our sense of security is strained or even snapped, and Satan, that “commander of powers in the unseen world,” will try to use the opportunity to pull us into sin.

I noticed a few years ago I had unconsciously shifted to a short farewell phrase: “Take care.” The phrase usually is spoken gently, but it is packed with meaning. Be alert, it says—watch out for pitfalls as you move through life.

I often was being literal when I said it to my children as they headed out as neophyte drivers, or when they went alone on an outing for the first time. “Take care to look both ways, take care to notice strangers around you.”

The phrase can be whispered to our own souls, however. We need to take care when we are frightened, lonely or bored. As we spend more time away from practicing our identity in a church community, worldliness in all its forms has more opportunities to come straight at us, even as we are supposedly isolated.

For example, think of the portal the computer, cell phone or television represents. Choose wisely what flows into your home from the world. That’s a message for all modern times, but particularly for right now.

Don’t let the world sully your clean clothes! We are God’s masterpiece! He has plans for us, meaning there is a future with him.

Lord, remind us through the day who we are. Amen.

Anticipation

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Devotional for Monday, March 30

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Confession time: I’m a little frustrated. If you haven’t figured it out by now, yesterday did not go as planned. We were supposed to have online worship at 9 a.m. and drive-in worship at 10:30 a.m.

Unfortunately, about 5 a.m. a wicked storm cut through Ten Mile, taking down trees and power lines. Guess what? You cannot get online without an internet connection, and you cannot broadcast an FM signal without electricity.

Sigh.

It’s safe to say I’m not the only one wanting things to be as they were. It’s likely that our world will never be the same as it was before the COVID-19 crisis, but much will be familiar after.

We’re going to need a way to mark a return to familiarity. Note the root of “familiar”—family. Brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ve made a decision regarding how we will mark that day.

Communion. The Lord’s Supper. Eucharist. Call it what you want; this will be our mark. It is possible that during this crisis, we may see some relaxing of church rules prohibiting online communion, allowing me to bless bread and juice you set out at home. It’s also possible to hand out sealed juice-and-bread kits in a drive-in church setting. But I think we’re going to forego such options.

Please understand, I love leading communion. It is one of a few pastoral acts that can bring tears to my eyes. I long for the experience. We’re going to save it, however, for when we are truly together, in the meantime anticipating it. 

As we wait for the day, know that there are other “means of grace,” places where God will always meet us and show us extravagant, undeserved love. Open God’s word and read. Take time to pray. Be in fellowship as much as possible online and on the phone (assuming there’s electricity and internet).

The day will come when we stand in our sanctuary together and break out the bread and juice—the body and blood—give our confessions, accept God’s forgiveness, lift up the Great Thanksgiving and partake. On that day, we will rediscover something like normal, and we will revel in it.

Lord, return to us the day of communion, that day of holy sacrament, very, very soon. Amen.