Archives for category: Easter

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.



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.


30a.  Like button




Declare your praise 29.  Declare your praise

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

– Psalm 51:14

There’s something very elemental about this verse that is vital to how we live our lives.   It has to do with sequence.  The psalmist asks the Lord to open his lips and then his mouth will declare God’s praise.   Everything begins with God.

So I’d like to invite you to interrupt this reading of this devotion and sit back for a moment and reflect for a moment on all that’s before you in your life.  What are all your to-dos?  What are the biggest challenges that are before you?  What is sapping your energy because it’s just too big, too much of a hassle, too difficult, or for whatever reason daunting for you?   Whatever that is, take a break for a couple moments and just lay it before God.  Ask for guidance, for strength, for understanding, for compassion, for courage, for patience.  And then meet me back in the next paragraph.


I pray that God will open your lips, your mind, your heart or whatever is needed as you go forward in this day that has been given to us.

Another aspect of this verse which is so valuable is the simple idea of praise.  When do you praise someone?  Usually it’s when they’ve done a good job for something.  How often is it that we praise God in-between       Sundays?   How often do we praise the Lord for just this opportunity to be alive — whatever the challenges?   The psalms themselves are full of praise.  Even the so-called “psalms of lament” often conclude with a word of praise.   Psalm 22 contains the most famous lament from the Bible which is remembered by our Lord from the cross (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?).   But even this psalm will say:   “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you . . .  All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.”     Let everything that lives and breathes praise the Lord.



Praise the LORD.

Praise the LORD, O my soul.

I will praise the LORD all my life;

I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.   (Psalm 146:1-2)



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).


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.



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.



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.



Then25.  Then

“Then I will teach transgressors your ways”

– Psalm 51:13a

 It happens often in scripture.    Those seemingly incidental words like ‘so,’ ‘for,’ ‘therefore’ carry a lot of weight.  They often serve as a bridge, or hinge, between what immediately preceded and what immediately follows.  These hinge words usually shape, color, and give direction to what comes next.   If we don’t pay careful attention to these modest words, we lose meaning, intent and message.

“Then.”   This is key to our understanding verse 13.   It’s not simply that, in the voice of the psalmist, “I will teach transgressors your ways.”  But rather, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways.”   That hinge word of ‘then’ sends a clear signal that whatever is taking place in verse 13 depends on what came before.

So it is only because of verse 12 that we move to verse 13.   It is only after calling upon the Lord  to “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit” — it is only after this that the psalmist can say “Then I will teach transgressors your ways.”   Then.  Because of.  As a direct consequence.  As a result.

I imagine that you have had “then” moments in your life.  Lots of them.  Something occurred in your life experience and “then” something happened.  Then you did something.  Or then something happened to you.   It may have been good, it may have been bad.

“Then” connects us to Jesus.   “I went to Sunday School as a youth and first heard about Jesus and then . . .“  “I picked up my Bible and for the first time in a while read through the gospel of Luke and Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son and then . . .”    “This Lenten season I stopped and considered how Jesus walked to the cross for me and then . . .”

Then . . .  what?  What has happened on your side of the hinge?   What will happen on your side of the hinge?  Will you teach others?  Serve others?  Pray more?  Give thanks?   Cry?  Shout for joy?   Ask for forgiveness?  Forgive others?   Be quiet?  Get busy?   What?


Dear God,

You created this world, then . .  .   You rescued your people from bondage, then . . .   The Word became flesh,  then . . .   Jesus preached and healed, then . . .  Jesus gave his life in love, then . . .




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.


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.



Hide your face17.  Hide your face

“Hide your face from my sins . . .”     – Psalm 51:9a

I would assume that virtually everyone who reads today’s devotion has at one time or another participated in the time-honored  tradition of hide and seek.  Maybe you did it as a child, or perhaps you have played that game with your own children or grandchildren.  For some, being alone and the one who has to find all the others (maybe you’re playing in a dark house?)    can be a bit scary.

The phrase “hide your face,” as it happens, is used in nine different psalms.  The interesting thing is that   in each case except our psalm today (Psalm 51), these usages are imploring God NOT to hide God’s face from us.  Take psalm 69:

Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.  Do  not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress — make haste to answer me.  Draw near to me, redeem me (Psalm 69:16-18).

In each of the eight other psalms, the psalmist beseeches God not to abandon them, but to come to their rescue and aid.  The good news this Lenten season is that God has played this game of hide and seek too.   A lot.  But when God plays, it is always we who are hiding and God who is seeking.

Let’s close today with a prayer in the form of Psalm 143:7-8.



Answer me quickly, O LORD; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.  Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.



Let me hear    15.  Let me hear

“Let me hear joy and gladness . . .”    – Psalm 51:8

So my brother Sean in New Jersey sent me a text early this morning that read:  “You know it’s time to move to Florida when it takes you 30 minutes, a screwdriver, hairdryer and buckets of hot water just to get into your frozen car!  OMG, I need winter to stop!”   In the midst of the east coast’s long hard winter, he’s looking for a break from the cold.  “Let me hear,” he might say, “a forecast for a high of 63 and spring showers.”  That would be joy and gladness for him along with millions of others fatigued by the frost and snow.

The psalmist, in the midst of his dark, cold night of confession, pleads to God “Let me hear joy and gladness.”  It’s a statement of hope and trust that in God’s forgiveness there is reprieve, renewal, and better yet, joy.

If you walk into a public place, a library, airport terminal, a Starbucks, chances are you’ll see several people with either large headphones cradling their head or slender “ear buds” cascading from their ears and connected to their iPod or tablet.   They’re listening to their tunes or perhaps some radio interview.   When you’re driving around in the car, maybe you have the radio on.  I once took a road trip with a friend of mine who had the annoying habit of switching the radio station about every 30 seconds.   He was never satisfied with what was on — he always wanted to hear something else.

What do you want to hear this Lenten season?  What do you need to hear?

On a number of occasions when he is teaching, Jesus says  “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Mark 4:23)  Might this time of Lent be a time for extra listening to God.   We need not fuss with the dial and switch from station to station.   But having offered our own confessions of brokenness and our need for God’s grace, it’s time to just listen and wait — be it in meditation, on a walk, in our reading of scripture, in our listening to a sermon or hymn.  Just listen expectantly for joy and gladness.


Dear God,

You called out to your people in Deuteronomy, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.”   Might we hear our own names in that address — “Hear, O [insert your name].”  And upon hearing, may we come to  experience the joy and gladness of loving you with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our might.


Teach me12.  Teach me 2

     “. . . therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.”   – Psalm 51:6b

This  Psalm is full of imperatives, full of entreaties by the Psalmist to God.  Today, it’s to teach us.

I remember my 6th grade science teacher, Mr. Enright.  This was the introduction to physics and there were many class sessions where I was in an utter fog.   But then, there were classes when it all became clear and the feeling was nothing short of exhilarating.   Have you ever had that experience yourself when a teacher unlocked a concept or field of study for you and it was like they opened a window on a gorgeous day and the fresh air just flowed into the house?

Today is another day where reflecting the part A and part B of the verse together is useful.   “You desire truth in the inward being (part A), therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart” (part B).   I’m intrigued by two parallels.   “Wisdom” is an elaboration on “truth” and  “in my secret heart” is a further description of “the inward being.”

When we think of wisdom in the Bible, we often think of Solomon.   But the book which speaks most often of wisdom is Proverbs where wisdom is discussed  49 times.   One passage  says:

For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly, guarding the paths of justice and preserving the way of his faithful ones.  Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;  prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you.   (Proverbs 2:6-11)

There’s also an internal dynamic to this verse — the “inward being” and “secret heart” which reminds me of Jeremiah’s call that,  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33 )

Do we seek truth and wisdom from God?  Do we seek to be changed by God at our inner-most being, upon our heart?


Dear Lord,

Teach us, shape us, mold us into the people you want us to be.   We can’t do it on our own; so help us to trust and rely upon you.



Born guilty10

Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.    Psalm 51:5

I’ve never liked this verse.  The image of a new life, yet forming in the womb, blemished by sin?   Before any harsh word, any selfish act, any spiteful response — before any decisions or choices at all are made — the psalmist declares himself guilty at birth (part A), a sinner at conception (part B).

This verse of the psalm brings two theological notions into tension.   In the creation story from Genesis 1, God does the following on the sixth day:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness . . .  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply . . .  God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Gen 1:26, 27, 31)

All that God had created, including humanity, God deemed not just good, but very good.

But then comes the Garden in Genesis 2 and 3 and Adam and Eve’s fateful choice to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God in turn casts the first couple out of the garden.  Many Christian interpreters, beginning with the Apostle Paul, came to understand this episode in the garden to be humanity’s fall, or “original sin” which convicts all who follow.   As Paul expressed it “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Rom 5:19).

I personally don’t read Genesis 2 and 3 literally, but rather see the episode in the garden as a poetic expression of the theological claim that people have a tendency toward the sinful.  But whether you take the garden literally or as a poetic expression, the claim is the same.

So which is it?  Are we innately good (Genesis 1), or innately sinful (Genesis 3)?

I would have to say — both, if you can tolerate the tension.   We are, first of all, made in God’s image.   As such, people have a natural goodness.  But at the same time, it is undeniable that people have not only a  capacity but a tendency on both an individual and a corporate basis to act sinfully.  The nightly news is a quick primmer on the sinfulness and the brokenness of humanity.   And then if we do an honest assessment of our own lives at the close of a day, I expect we would recognize multiple times when we acted with less than generosity, charity or grace.

So as much as I dislike the image of a child guilty at conception or birth, the psalmist is capturing a truth, poetically, that the image of God, which we each hold, is tarnished.   It’s tarnished by our jealousies, our greed, our spite, our vindictiveness, our impatience, our prejudice, our [add what else enters your mind].

If we fail to recognize the sinfulness in our lives and in our world, then we will be less able to comprehend and fully appreciate the Christ event.  For as  Paul proclaims, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).


Dear Lord,

We confess our sin and our sins.  Forgive us, free us, restore us, redeem us, renew us.   Call us again, this day,  into faithful discipleship and help us to order our lives accordingly.