Archives for category: Devotional

No delight  30.  No delight

“For you have no delight in sacrifice;”

– Psalm 51:16a

Perhaps you are among the 1.35 billion people around the world who actively use Facebook each month.  You may even be one of the 890 million people who use it every day.   (Don’t think this is a youth-only phenomenon — 31% of U.S. seniors are on Facebook!)   If you are one of these Facebook users, then you may be familiar with the concept of “liking” something that you see on Facebook by clicking on that little thumbs up icon or “Like.”   You can choose to Like almost anything on Facebook.   You may have even received messages from friends (or strangers) asking you to Like their page or a particular event.   Why, if you see the notice of this devotional on BRPC’s Facebook page, you could Like it too!

Ever wonder what earlier times in history would have been like if they had access to social media?  Could you imagine if Moses had a Twitter account?  (“People whining AGAIN today, want cheesy #manna.”)   According to our writer of Psalm 51, if those who promoted ritual sacrifice had a Facebook page, the Lord would not Like it.   There are several places in scripture, such as the passage below in Isaiah, where the Lord expresses dislike of sacrifices, wanting instead for people to dedicate their entire lives to God.              

Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your evil assemblies . . . They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.   When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;  wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.   (Isaiah 1:13-17)

In other words, the Lord calls upon us to move beyond the merely symbolic and DO acts of love and mercy.  So you could Like this entry from God on Isaiah’s Facebook page.  But better yet, you could click on The Lord’s Twitter page where there’s another button you can click on — you can Follow.

 

Prayer

Dear God,

Draw us to you in reverence.  Hear us in our prayers.   Help us to meditate upon your holy Word.  But then stir us to get up and witness to you so that we embody and enact our faith in the world.

Amen

30a.  Like button

 

 

 

My tongue will sing 28.  My tongue will sing

“. . .  and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.”

– Psalm 51:14b

Just yesterday I said something that I wish I hadn’t.   How about you?   How far do you have to go back to think of something that you wish you had phrased differently or perhaps didn’t utter at all?

I was having a conversation with my dad the other day and he told me about a book he was reading titled “The Power of Words.”   Are we mindful of the impact that our speech can have?  Of course the old adage of “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” is nonsense.   I have experienced the blunt impact of words myself on occasion; and I have witnessed or been told countless times of instances where words have been hurled with as much force as any stick or stone.   I bet you can remember a hurtful phrase spoken to you at some point in the past.   As the book of Proverbs observes,  Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing(Proverbs 12:18).

Perhaps the most stinging critique of our use of the tongue comes from the book of James:

Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.   The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man,   but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. (James 3:4-10)

I wonder if anyone reading this column has by chance taken a Lenten pledge to abstain from issuing any insults or even subtle slights.  Has anyone chosen to forego any mean-spirited criticism or spiteful gossip?   How might our daily interactions — from our conversations with family members to exchanges with total strangers at the supermarket — how would they be affected if we sought with great intention to speak at ALL times with charity, love, patience and humility?   James levels a further comment that might rebuke us all:

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless”  (James 1:26).

Prayer

Dear Lord,

You have given us the beautiful gift of speech.  With it, we can share words of grace such as “I love you,”  “I’m sorry,”  “I forgive you,” or “wow, that was just great!”  The writer of psalm 51, upon being delivered from bloodshed by God, pledged to use their tongue “to sing aloud of your deliverance.”   Help us Lord, regardless of our immediate circumstances and regardless of the words spoken to us, help us to always use our tongues in a way that glorifies you and reflects our gratitude for your grace.

Amen

 

Deliver me27.  Deliver me

“Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation”

–  Psalm 51:14a

Ironic, that.   “Deliver me from bloodshed, O God.”  As we recall the traditional setting of Psalm 51 and David’s sin, we remember how David arranged to have Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed in the course of battle to cover up David’s exploitation of Bathsheba.    In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah.  In it he wrote, “Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die”  (2 Samuel 11:14-15).

How often is it that we ask God to spare us in ways that we don’t spare others.   Be patient with us God, we might pray, as we’re short with our child, spouse or someone else at church.    Forgive us Lord, as we hold tight to grudges that may be days, weeks, months, years, decades old.   Be gracious to us Lord, as we weave aggressively through traffic because the person in front of us isn’t driving quickly enough.  Protect us Lord, as we avoid the beggar on the street.

But God handles irony well.  At the beginning of the gospel of Matthew there is a genealogy that traces Jesus’ lineage from Abraham down through David.  At that spot in the genealogy, it reads, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife” (Matthew 1:6).  Bathsheba has a place in the lineage but not a name.  She is only known as “Uriah’s wife.”    And in that turn of phrase, the scripture witnesses to the sins of David.   As it happens, this Jesus would preach and teach and heal his way through Matthew’s gospel, and then come to a point of sacrifice upon the cross.   And it would indeed be bloody.

In a couple weeks, we will gather for a meal on Maundy Thursday and then a Tenebrae service.  During the meal, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper, we will share communion with one another.  In passing the bread, we will say “this is the body of Christ, broken for you.”  And in sharing the juice, we will say “this is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

Deliver us all from bloodshed, O God, God of our salvation.

 

Prayer

Dear Lord,

Our world knows too much bloodshed.  Bloodshed from violence.  Bloodshed from sickness.  There are other wounds we have where the bleeding is less visible, but the injuries are real.  Deliver us from all of these cuts.  And as you do, lead us to treat each other with mercy, caring, forgiveness and love.

Amen

 

Will return26.  Will return

“. . .  and sinners will return to you.

– Psalm 51:13b

Rembrandt painted one of the most evocative images of the return of a sinner.   In his “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” he captures the scene where the wayward younger son, grimy from his time among the pigs and his long trek home, buries his face in the robes of his father.   The visual center of the painting is where the father’s hands rest upon his son’s shoulders and hold him close.  Some have suggested that Rembrandt made the father’s left hand masculine (larger, a bit more rough) and his right hand feminine (more smooth and slender).   Was Rembrandt suggesting both maternal and paternal qualities in the father’s (God’s) forgiveness?

The writer of Psalm 51 now speaks of a remarkable transformation.  Upon receiving God’s forgiveness (the restoration of the joy of salvation), the psalmist declares that  “Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will return to you.”   The writer who himself was lost, fortified with God’s forgiveness, now goes out to reach others who are lost.

How often is it in the Bible that we read of how God uses someone who was lost or even hostile to God’s purposes (think Jacob or Saul of Tarsus).    In some of these cases, the transformation is so great that God re-names the person (Jacob to Israel, Saul to Paul).    That’s good news twice over.   No matter what has taken place in our lives, God can use us, indeed is seeking to use us, to further God’s kingdom.   And if we happen to count ourselves among the lost, God is using people of faith to find us, reach us, and guide us back home.

Prayer

O lead me, Lord, that I may lead
The wandering and the wavering feet;
O feed me, Lord, that I may feed
Thy hungering ones with manna sweet.

O use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where,
Until Thy blessèd face I see,
Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share.

Amen

 

 

Sustain in me24. Sustain in me

“. . .  and sustain in me a willing spirit.”     – Psalm 51:12b

I used to work for a foundation and had the occasion to do some grant writing.  One thing you learned quickly was that funders often embraced the opportunity to provide financing for a brand new initiative, to get something going, but they were much less enthused about funding something that had already begun.   And even in those new initiative grant applications, your chances for funding increased significantly if you included a robust description of how the project would become “self-sustainable” in the future.

I also had the opportunity to work for a company that helped people go from welfare to work.   The catch-phrase in the industry was that we were helping people to become “self-sustainable.”   While I appreciated the intent of that idea, it always struck me as something of a myth.  Who among us, really, is self-sustainable?   Who among us doesn’t rely upon on others?   Who among us doesn’t depend upon God’s grace every day?

I love the interplay between parts A and B of Psalm 51:12.   The psalmist calls on God to first “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” — which is about recreating something.  Establishing something anew.  Funders would jump at part A of verse 12.   But not only does the psalmist seek this restoration, this renewing, but he also asks God to “sustain in me a willing spirit.”    Which is to ask God to do something continuously — something funders generally have less an appetite for.

So we can ask our gracious God to help us begin again.  And then we can ask our Lord to stay with us, day in and day out, over the long haul.  We can depend on this creative and sustaining power of God.  Today, tomorrow and every day.

Prayer

Dear Lord,

As the writer of Psalm 119 wrote,

Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live;

do not let my hopes be dashed.   

Uphold me, and I will be delivered  (Psalm 119:116-117).

Amen

 

Restore to me

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation,”    – Psalm 51:12a23a.  Restore to me

Have you ever been to one of those restoration warehouses?  I’m not talking about the upscale Restoration Hardware, but those quirky stores that stockpile old things that people might choose to use in their homes.  My wife Janet and I had a good time nosing around such a warehouse in the crossroads district of Kansas City.  You could find old light fixtures, doors, claw-foot tubs, stained glass, and loads of other things that had been salvaged from old homes, offices or churches.  All that you need to restore something that was rusty or painted over is some tools, maybe some cleaning/stripping formula, elbow grease, patience and vision.

The verb “restore” is used a lot in the Old Testament.  One instance, in Psalm 85, makes me chuckle.  It goes:

You showed favor to your land, O LORD; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.  You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins.  You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger.  Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us.  (Psalm 85:1-4)

Maybe I’m just feeling a bit punchy this afternoon, but it’s the “again” part that makes me laugh.  The psalmist recounts how God had already restored the people of Israel, but as we know the people continued to foul up.   So now the psalmist has come back before the Lord, another time, and has to ask for the lord to “restore us again.”     Grammatically I guess that would be re-restore!  I must say I appreciate the honesty of the psalmist.  How many times is it that we need to ask for God’s restoring grace?

The verb “restore” may be used most of all in the book of Jeremiah.  And that makes sense since that’s a book traces how the people are carried off into exile to Babylon.   Jeremiah’s plea and promise is for a restoration of the people back to their land:  “But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD . . . I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents and have compassion on his dwellings; the city will be rebuilt on her ruins, and the palace will stand in its proper place.  From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing (Jeremiah 30:17-19).

Do you have any rust on your life?  Any nicks, scrapes or any other imperfections?  Any accumulated dirt, dust, old paint that is caking over your spirit and your soul?   It’s a good thing that God enjoys kicking around these warehouses too.  God spies you, lifts you up from behind a pile, blows off some of the dust, and in an instant sees what you can become again.

23b.  Restore to me  Prayer

Almighty God,

By your grace, mercy, forgiveness and love, reclaim us and make us a new    people (again).  Restore to us the beauty of your  image, and by the gift of  your Son and Holy Spirit, fill us with joy this day.

Amen.

 

Do not take 22.  Do not take away

“. . . and do not take your Holy Spirit away from me.”

– Psalm 51:11b

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of a broken relationship.   Maybe you were dating someone and then it came to an end.  Maybe you know the pain of divorce.   In cases like that, things that were once shared are reclaimed and taken away.  Home furnishings.  Pictures.  Sweatshirts.   Pets.   Rings.

There are times in the Old Testament when prophets such as Hosea described the relationship between the Lord and the people of Israel as like a marriage — and how the unfaithfulness of the people could be leading toward divorce.   But a more enduring image of God’s presence in our lives emerges across scripture.  One of my favorite is from the time when the people of Israel were making their way through the wilderness after their escape from Egypt.   God’s presence is captured in an ever-visible pillar of cloud by day or fire by night:

22a. pillar of cloudThey set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness.   The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.   Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the  people (Exod 13:20-22).

Ever wish for a pillar of cloud in the uncertain times of your life to show you the way, or just to remind you that God is there, with you?

On this side of the cross, the view can be bleak at times.  Life can feel overwhelming.  All the expectations or “to dos” can mount and mount until we feel so weighed down, so burdened.  And we may feel dismayed by our own limitations — be they spiritual, physical or financial.  And then there’s the mountain of ‘could’ves, should’ves.’    But then, as I said, that may be the view from this side of the cross.

Prayer

Precious Lord,   In the face of discouragement, guilt or any other burdens, we give thanks for the blessing of the ever-presence of your Holy Spirit.   Guide us through the wildernesses of our lives.  And remind us that in the season yet to come, you declared “and remember, I am with you always.”

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

Do not cast me away21.  Do not cast me away

“Do not cast me away from your presence”

– Psalm 51:11a

Cast away.  Synonyms:    Jettison.  Abandon.  Discard.  Leave behind.  Throw away.  Get rid of.

The past couple weeks, with the temperature leaping into the 70s, may lead us to hope that winter is over.  It may also have us thinking about some springtime rituals.  A new Royals baseball season.  Spring break.  And then there’s the time-honored tradition of the spring garage sale.  It’s a time to sort through stuff  in the garage and basement and decide what can be sold, donated or just cast away.

The psalmist prays that God doesn’t, in the midst of some divine spring cleaning, decide to put him out on the curb with a price tag or just a sign to “help yourself.”   He hopes that all the sins in his life don’t lead the Lord to cast him away.

In the Old Testament,  Samuel had warned the people against seeking a king — but they did so anyway.  And then this:

And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart . . . For the LORD will not cast away his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself . . .  Only fear the LORD, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. (1Samuel 12:20, 22, 24)

It’s a view of God’s faithfulness and determination to hold onto us, regardless.

In the book of Ezekiel, the Lord urges the people to do their own spring cleaning:

Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin.  Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live.   (Ezekiel 18:29-32)

How striking these verses are after reading Psalm 51:10-11.  God calls on the people to cast away all that offends and to get a new heart and new spirit.  It’s a Lenten prescription for renewal.   What do we need to cast away in these weeks?   What from our lives should we tag and set out for sale on the driveway or front lawn — or simply throw away?   How can we “turn . . . and live”?

Prayer

Dear Lord,

Hold onto us, we pray.  No matter what our sin or flaw.  Hold onto us, reshape us, mold us, use us again in your service and for your glory.  Help us to turn and live.

Amen

 

Create in me  19.  Create in me

Create in me a clean heart, O God,         – Psalm 51:10a

It intrigues me that the psalmist uses the verb “create” in this verse.   Up to this point in Psalm 51, the writer has often spoken of washing and cleansing so that his old, sullied self (and ours)would be made clean or white as snow.  But here, the Psalmist calls on God to “create in me a clean heart.”        

That suggests to me the idea of starting over.  Of beginning anew.    Of getting a fresh, clean heart.   This makes me think of a member of our congregation who, thanks be to God and for the loving gift of another, recently had a double lung transplant.  Two new lungs.  Clean lungs.

The Apostle Paul’s view of our redemption in Christ would require such heart transplants on a broad scale as we are to die in Christ so that we may be made new in Christ:

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.   And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them . . .  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God  (2 Corinthians 5:14– 15, 17-20).

What would it be like to live with clean hearts?  With new, clean hearts from Christ?   Paul suggests that our new lives will beat, pump and flow with the purpose of reconciliation.    Gratitude to Christ, humility  and forgiveness would coarse through our veins.   And then we would find ourselves living new lives indeed — with God, with one another.

Prayer

Dear Lord,

Our hearts are tired.  There are blockages that have built up over time, constricting the hope and love that you intend for our us.  Create in us, through your Son, clean hearts that will reconcile us with you and with our brothers and sisters.

Amen

 

Blot out   (part II)  18.  Blot out

“. . .  and blot out all my iniquities.”          

– Psalm 51:9b

He stood over his canvasses and  hurled paint with his brush.    The flying pigment would adhere in streaks and globs.  Sometimes he would  dispense with the brush altogether and just sling or drizzle paint directly from a can.

At first glance, many paintings by Jackson Pollock may look like a collection of mistakes.

Following the transgressions in the garden of Eden and Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, scripture tells us that God looked upon the world and saw just a series of mistakes:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.   And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.   So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created– people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”     (Genesis 6:5-7)

The writer from Psalm 51 chooses for a second time to use this image of blotting out.   As in verse one, the psalmist does not ask God to blot him out (the common usage of this phrase in the Old Testament), but rather to blot out his iniquities.   His mistakes.  His failings.   His sin.  To cover them up.  To forget them.

God, to our great relief, is a bit like Jackson Pollock.   He takes this canvas of creation, of humanity, with all of our inadequacies and failings, and by the blessings of forgiveness and grace, blots  out our sins.   And so what stands in place of a canvas of mistakes is suddenly a canvas of beauty.

18cPrayer

Dear Lord,

With brush in hand, you blot out our iniquities, you forgive our sin.  The result is only something that we can wonder at.  Help us then.   If you can transform these blemishes of ours, us,  into art, help us to forgive our own sins too.   Help us to see ourselves, and others, in the new light of your creative grace and love.

Amen