Psalm 51, Day 5

Devotional for Friday, May 22

Psalm 51:13-15
Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
    and they will return to you.
Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;
    then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.
Unseal my lips, O Lord,
    that my mouth may praise you.

With restoration comes responsibility. We speak to the “rebels” knowing we are people who have been part of the rebellion. This is not an arrogant “I will teach.” This is a humble desire to show others the way home.

We also are reminded this is King David’s psalm of repentance, and that the king knew his sins went beyond lust and adultery. Through abuse of power, he had shed the blood of Uriah, and perhaps he also felt the weight of having killed with his own hand.

Even with dark pasts, forgiveness is possible, as is life beyond our sins. Drunks and addicts become counselors, once God has worked on them. Thieves become respected advocates for the downtrodden, if they let God in. Killers may face a lifetime of worldly punishment, but with an understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they also can become remarkable conduits of grace in very frightening places.

Teach! Sing! Praise! It is your right—not a right you have earned, but one earned for you by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Lord, give us visions of new paths and our lives restored for the benefit of others. Amen.

On the Beach

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Devotional for Friday, May 15

There are stories in the Bible so powerful that I find it daunting to try to expand or elaborate on them in any way. To do so is like standing before a beautiful painting and breaking the holy silence in the gallery by saying, “Note how the lines merge at this point.”

In this Easter season, I want to share with you such a text. It is, by the way, my favorite part of the Bible, the story I turn to for comfort. For me, it captures everything being revealed about God from Genesis to Revelation in one simple story.

As a reader, do me a favor. I know we often read blogs as part of our hurried lives, our eyes racing over the words while our emails and texts beep for attention. Don’t do that today.

Please, either slow down or come back when you have more time, and carefully read John 21:1-19. Click on the word “John” in the previous sentence, and you’ll have the story before you. You also can click on this YouTube link and see a video depiction of the story. (You may get a commercial first.)

There are characters in pain in this story; remember, the disciples knew Jesus was alive, but they also knew they had hidden when Jesus needed them most. Facing the resurrected Jesus was a difficult and even frightening act for them, particularly for Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus three times.

And yes, I feel like I’m already over-explaining it.

—————–

Now that you’ve read or viewed the story, I want to share with you a few of the thoughts I have had about it over the years.

Even when faced with miraculous evidence of God’s presence, the best of us, when confronted with our sinful weaknesses, may want to turn back to what we used to be.

Because of the resurrection, we are a people of abundance. We simply have to see and accept that abundance.

The resurrected Jesus meets us where we are, with love, grace and forgiveness, even if the sin is abandonment and betrayal. I wonder, had Judas lived, how would Jesus have offered him forgiveness?

And of course, as we are restored by Jesus, there is a mission—perhaps a difficult one—but a mission that gives us purpose beyond our former lives.

Because of Jesus, we know we worship a God of love, a God who asks only that we return to him by accepting the free gift of forgiveness and salvation and then respond accordingly.

Lord, meet us where we are with your grace, and may we once again be astonished by the love you offer. Amen.

A Belly Prayer

Jonasendewalvis1621PieterLastmanPublicDomainDevotional for Wednesday, April 22

Jonah 2:1-4 (NLT)

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish. He said,

“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble,
    and he answered me.
I called to you from the land of the dead,
    and Lord, you heard me!
You threw me into the ocean depths,
    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.
Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence.
    Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’ “

Yesterday, we considered the overall theme of Jonah’s story. Let’s stay with the reluctant prophet today. His prayer from deep beneath the waters, in the belly of a great sea creature, may remind us a little of what we’re experiencing now.

I feel like I want to come up for air. I want what I think of as normal to return. And yes, I want to look once more toward our holy sanctuary, with all of you in it. I thank God for the technology allowing us to gather online, but it’s just not the same.

You might want to take time to read the rest of the prayer in Jonah 2. Jonah, flawed as he was, prayed the way we need to pray.

First, Jonah remembered the Lord, and his prayer went out in earnest.

There’s praying, and then there’s praying like you really mean it. We’re talking about that kind of prayer where we sense just how fully dependent on God we are.

I do not think of COVID-19 as a good thing, but God can work much good through what is very bad. As part of a culture where the majority of people have a false sense of control, it is good when we are reminded how dependent we are. That reality check helps us to “remember the Lord.”

Who knows, this experience might trigger some sort of national awakening to God’s presence. And I don’t mean the rise of a political movement paying lip service to God. I’m talking about real change, the kind of transformation that can be seen on people’s faces and in their behaviors.

Second, Jonah used his prayer to recommit himself to his religious practices and his vows, recognizing, “My salvation comes from the Lord alone.”

As Christians, we have a refined sense of what he meant, thanks to being born after the Christ event. God does not want any of us left in the belly of death. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again, and we are thrown clear of death’s grip.

Let’s recommit ourselves to living out the truth we declare. In whatever ways we are able, let’s gather and glorify God as we celebrate the greatest gift ever given to the world. Let’s remember our baptismal vows, and our vows to support the Christian community through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. 

As the prayer ends in Jonah 2, we are told the Lord ordered the creature to spit the prophet onto the beach. It is debatable how much Jonah’s heart was transformed as he returned to his calling. Reading the rest of the story, we see he at best grudgingly obeyed. But he did obey, survive and succeed in his mission.

We can do much better, I expect!

Lord, as we pray in earnest and recommit ourselves to you, may we also find a renewed joy in all that we do. We know from where our salvation comes, and we rejoice in the eternal life we are given. Amen.