Psalm 51, Day 6

Devotional for Saturday, May 23

Psalm 51:16-19
You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
Look with favor on Zion and help her;
    rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit—
    with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings.
    Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.

The end of this psalm reminds us it was written in a place and time. Burnt offerings were the order of the day for relating to God, and would continue to be so for a long time.

But we also get a glimpse of what was to come, what was to make possible the healing of broken and repentant hearts even today. Sacrifices were a means to an end. To demonstrate this, God came in flesh to provide the ultimate sacrifice, atoning for every sin committed.

Fully divine, Jesus could not be repentant, but he could demonstrate how terribly broken God’s heart is when we sin. Through Jesus, God experienced a painful and humiliating death, bearing the weight of all the world’s sins while nailed to some timbers. All this to help us break free from sin’s grip.

To take advantage of this great gift, all we have to do is be contrite and repentant enough to believe. We have to humble ourselves, finding our place in the great design of the universe. We are the created, God is the Creator.

As always, there is good news in this story. The Creator loves his creation dearly. The joy and freedom God offers far exceeds what we could find on our own.

With all his power and all his wealth, King David believed it, and we should, too.

Thank you, Lord, for the process of repentance and salvation, a gift freely given and undeserved. Amen.

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.

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.

The More Things Change

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Devotional for Wednesday, May 6

Hebrews 13:8: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

This daily devotional series began in response to the COVID-19 crisis, so naturally the subject of change arises from time to time.

Whether some of the changes we are experiencing are permanent remains to be seen. For example, I have no doubt we will see what we think of as “normal” worship again, but we may have to make small adjustments. I’m wondering if handshakes, hugs and the joy of packed pews will be less a part of our church lives, at least on a seasonal basis as flu and corona viruses continue to make their way around.

Time will tell, and regardless, we will be okay. Change can be worrisome and even scary, but as the author of Hebrews reminds us, we worship a God of constancy, his unchanging love expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There might even be some good changes to come out of this pandemic, assuming church people can think creatively while rooting themselves in Christ. We have discovered that following Christ is so important, at least some of us will modify our behaviors in surprising ways to glorify God and make and grow disciples in the faith.

I have to admit, I was quite comfortable with the old model. I love to worship in a beautiful sanctuary, gather in small groups and visit people at the hospital or in their homes. To me, that is the ideal model, and I will return to it as soon as I can.

Simultaneously, I also see that I will retain and even try to improve on some of these new practices, many of them deeply rooted in technology we church people have sometimes been slow to adopt. Video screens packed with faces bring their own kind of joy, particularly when I realize some of the people joining us could not be in the church building before the pandemic. 

We simply have to be sure that the new methods are wedded to the truth of who Jesus Christ always is. Every person ever born or to be born needs to hear that truth, and it is a holy act to deliver it, regardless of the means.

There is a Savior extending a loving hand, telling us we always have hope and a brighter future. Nothing can change that truth.

Lord, may word of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ continue to spread through the world and to new generations. Amen.

 

Prayer for the Day, with Extras

Devotional for Saturday, April 18

Here’s another guided prayer, this one based on Psalm 118:14-24. Again, I’ll invite you to pause at the end of each paragraph, lifting up specific names and situations as they come to mind. Please note that several links to song files are embedded. Think of them as little Easter eggs to find.

“The Lord is my strength and my might. He has become my salvation.” Indeed! As your Easter people, we now know how you work. Christ the Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

Our songs of victory are muted in the sanctuary this year, but not in our hearts. O victory in Jesus! Christ the Lord is risen today! Easter people, raise your voices! He lives! We sing these words in our hearts now, and we shall sing them in your congregation again.

I have sinned but shall not die, not forever. Christ went to the cross for me, Christ is risen to prove my resurrection will be true. We shall all sing together in the new Jerusalem, giving glory to the Lamb of God.

You have shown us the way; the gates of Paradise are re-opened, the Spirit rushes to us, and we are transformed. Reveal to me my flaws and sanctify me.

Thank you for Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of salvation. O Lord, you have done a marvelous work, and your people rejoice so you may be glorified.

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.

 

Death on a Cross

Devotional for Good Friday (April 10)

John 18-19 (New Living Translation)


Posted above is a link to the story of Jesus Christ’s arrest, trial, beating and death. A video depiction of that story also is above for you to watch.

Today is a day for remembering. It is a somber and sad day. Even when we are able to be together in the sanctuary, we depart in silence. We should, after all, be shocked at what Jesus Christ was willing to undergo for us.

Good Friday is about the ultimate action, Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his arrest, he sought relief from the terrible work that had to be done. But once that work was underway, “He never said a mumblin’ word.” The negro spiritual declares Jesus’ prophetic words could not be construed as complaint or reluctance.

Today calls for a simple response from Christians. Give thanks for the work that has been done. We reap immeasurable benefits from the ultimate action story.

In this story, Christ gathers us in his arms, yanking us from death’s tight grip and delivering us to eternal life. As you lift up Good Friday prayers, thank Jesus by walking by his side as he stumbles toward the cross. As he hangs on the cross, some who had followed him ultimately run, and some stay for the burial. Remain with him to the bitter end.

We will join together online tonight at 7 o’clock (note the time—our prayer gatherings were an hour earlier). We will hear the stages of the story, and respond accordingly. More details about that service will follow.

As dark as the story may get, remember, good action has eternal consequences.

To join tonight’s online service:

From your computer, tablet or smartphone:
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/607049869

You can also dial in using your phone:
United States: (646) 749-3122
Access Code: 607-049-869