Psalm 51, Day 4

Devotional for Thursday, May 21

Psalm 51:10-12
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you.

The Creator didn’t stop creating—the work goes on. Jesus demonstrated this when he used dirt and his own spit to create vision for the man born blind. Our inner life and being, symbolized by the heart, are new creations of the Holy Spirit, who remains at work in the world today.

Loyalty implies alignment with the will of God. The goal of opening ourselves to sanctification is pretty straightforward; we hope to be so aligned with God that sin becomes as unnatural for us as it is for our creator. At that point, we are again fully made in God’s image, a small-but-perfect reflection.

The psalmist was rightly anxious, though. Few experience holy transformation all at once, even as we profess our faith in Christ more and more. We remain mindful of our past sins and our tendency to return to sin. Proverbs 26:11: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.”

We sense the fool still living within, and we seek protection from that part of ourselves as we trust this transformation to continue. Oh, for the day when obedience to God is as natural as breathing!

Lord, we submit ourselves to be guarded and contained, knowing you ultimately will give us boundless freedom and eternal life. Amen.

Those Who Will Lead

Devotional for Thursday, May 14

2 Timothy 1:1-7 (NRSV)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.


Lucas

Today is my grandson’s second birthday. Bright as he is, Lucas is not old enough to read this, but he and the other members of our youngest generation are on my mind.

Looking at our little ones, be they children, grandchildren, or just people we care about, we are bound to wonder what the future holds for them. In the midst of our current crisis, we initially might feel a little pessimistic.

Our pessimism would stem from what is basically an economic assessment. There is much uncertainty right now regarding how hard we are going to be hit financially, what kind of jobs will be available in the coming years, and maybe even what kind of government will be in control. Large-scale events like this COVID-19 crisis tend to be followed by huge social and political shifts.

Paul’s letter to a young Christian named Timothy makes me feel more positive, however. Timothy was old enough to have taken a leadership role in his church community, but he still needed a lot of advice from his father figure regarding how to proceed in difficult times.

Paul re-rooted Timothy in what really mattered—a faith that had passed from two prior generations, grandmother to mother to son.

Paul was telling Timothy to rely on the Holy Spirit, who moves through this world and works in it regardless of economic or social circumstances. In whatever kind of situation you find yourself in, know that God’s power remains with you. Trusting that power, you will speak as you need to speak and act as you need to act.

Love will flow through you, too, and the world always needs to see love in action, in good times and in bad.

I do not know if Lucas’ generation will on average have houses, retirement plans and freedom equal to what their parents and grandparents experienced. I want those things for them, but much more, I want them to be a generation of great faith, the kind of people who will pass on the truth of Jesus Christ to their children and grandchildren.

In the meantime, let’s remember them in our prayers night and day.

Lord, until such time as we stand before Christ in full, may the truth of who Christ is remain in our lineages. Amen.

Power Source

light-bulb-1246043_1280

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.

Thoughts of Home

1650_Guercino--Saint_Peter--Crocker_Art_Museum--Sacramento

Saint Peter

Devotional for Thursday, April 23

1 Peter 1:8-12 (NLT)

You love [Jesus Christ] even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

Let me begin by getting you, the Christian reader, in the right frame of mind. Peter’s first letter is not something to be read in the abstract. You are the “you” in this letter.

When written, 1 Peter was intended for a broad audience, a general guide for believers, many of whom were suffering. In the opening of the letter, Peter did make clear it was to be delivered to people living as “foreigners” in places strange to them.  But for all practical purposes, we are among them. Followers of Christ know this world can never truly be home.

As I read the verses above, I’m reminded that Peter was present when Jesus said, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” By the time he wrote this letter, Peter had seen Christ’s following grow from a tiny band of fearful eyewitnesses hiding in a locked room to a sprawling, multicultural movement. The vast majority of church people believed because someone had preached God’s word to them.

In other words, Peter got to see the power of the Holy Spirit at work. And at some point, this brash fisherman-turned-evangelist realized the Holy Spirit always had been at work, even before God took on flesh and came among humanity to save us from sin.

The prophets of old had been empowered by the Spirit to declare that salvation was coming, even if the exact process was something of a mystery to them. We’re reminded that the crucifixion and resurrection were parts of a plan embedded in creation from the beginning. The aspect of God through which all things were made is the same aspect of God that took on flesh.

Peter was saying you and I have roles in a great story. We benefit eternally from the work of the greatest hero of all time, Jesus Christ. We are more than just the rescued, though. We are called to join in the rescuing, telling the story and acting as the visible presence of the Holy Spirit in this world.

And as the letter promises, we will find our way home.

Lord, keep us mindful of who we are and where we are, so we may not lose sight of the task at hand and the greater days to come. Amen.

Life and Breath

inhale-exhale

Devotional for Friday, March 27

The Bible has a lot to say about the not-so-simple act of breathing.

Genesis 2:7: Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Ezekiel 37:9: Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”

John 20:21-23: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Acts 2:2-4: And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

In Scripture, the source of life is God’s breath, which we also might think of as the movement of the Holy Spirit. (Both biblical Hebrew and Greek have a word that can be translated as “breath,” “wind” or “spirit.”) While it sounds like an ethereal lesson, we can live it out  in very practical ways, particularly in times of stress.

When I’ve taught people suffering from stress how to pray in a meditative way, the “how to breathe” part of the lesson has been critical. First, you have to position your body so your breathing is most effective. Seated or standing, your back and neck need to be straight, your shoulders squared and hanging from your collarbones as if on coathangers. If you need to lie on your back, relax into the floor, arms down and out slightly from your body.

From here, “breath prayer” begins to line up with core techniques I’ve learned from decades of martial arts practice, principles recently confirmed in books detailing how soldiers and police survive and control violent, high-stress situations. Breathing is automatic, but it can get out of control when the world becomes overwhelming. At such times, we have to take charge of our breathing.

Inhale through your nose deeply, slowly, expanding your lower stomach. Hold at the end of the inhale for a count equal to your time spent inhaling. Exhale through your mouth at the same rate, shrinking and pushing in your lower stomach. At the bottom of the exhale, hold for the same amount of time. Some people who teach this talk about using a “four count” for each step.

Be aware, if your heart is racing, your lungs will fight you at first, particularly as you hold at the bottom of your exhale. Stick with it. If you’re feeling panicked or anxious, repeating this type of breathing will calm you, center you, and allow you to turn to God.

Connecting to God through our breathing makes sense. Made in the image of God and granted the Holy Spirit through our belief in Jesus Christ, we have access to the source of eternal life. Think of deliberate, God-focused breathing as an unspoken prayer request: “God, renew in me what you have poured into the world.”

Peace be with you.

Lord, we thank you for the life you have breathed into us. May we use our lives to glorify you and to the benefit of your dawning kingdom on earth.