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“It is finished” 3 crosses

          –  John 19:30

“Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”   (John 19:31)

What else is there to do this day, except pray?

 

Prayer — Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

Indeed, I was born guilty,

a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;

therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins,

and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from your presence,

and do not take your holy spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

and sinners will return to you.

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

and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

O Lord, open my lips,

and my mouth will declare your praise.

For you have no delight in sacrifice;

if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;

rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,

then you will delight in right sacrifices,

in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;

then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Amen

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

A new and20. A new spirit

right spirit

“. . .  and put a new and right spirit within me.”    – Psalm 51:10b

“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”  (Genesis 2:7).

We remember this as that second evocative creation story where God forms humanity out of the soil and then gives mankind the breath of life.   This breath, or wind (as in Genesis 1:1) signifies the very  spirit of God which punctuates several Old Testament texts.

Our story of this royal psalm, Psalm 51, had its beginning when the Lord told Samuel to go and  identify a new king for Israel.  Upon coming before David, the Lord said,

“Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”  Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.  (1Samuel 16:12-13)

How fitting it is that after David prays in the first part of this verse for a clean heart, he defines it further in part B by asking God to once again anoint him, and to put in him a new and right spirit.  It’s as though David was asking the Lord to form him anew out of the soil and to breathe life into him once more.

It’s no accident that one of the techniques of meditative prayer centers upon our breathing as we draw in the restoring, healing power of God.  Sometimes it’s simply [inhale]  “Jesus is Lord” [exhale] — repeat.  Or we might pray [inhale] “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner” [exhale] — repeat.   Join me in the similarly structured breathing prayer below (inhaling before each line and exhaling after each line)  as we call upon the Holy Spirit to renew and cleanse  our lives.

 Prayer

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.

Amen

Wash me (part II)  14.  Wash me (part II)

  “. . . wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”  – Psalm 51:7b

So I was skeptical.     “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.???”   Sure, it will snow in the Golan Heights perhaps.   But how often does it snow in Jerusalem or the other typically arid places in Israel?  How could the psalmist know just how white snow was?

Well, a quick Google search will surprise you.  They aren’t common, but there have been substantial snow falls in Jerusalem — usually, as it turns out, just once every couple years or so.   But when it happens, the city is blanketed.  And there are pictures of the devout praying at the western wall in snow boots, a rabbi in an igloo, even a skier takes off by the western wall.

There is a beauty to a freshly fallen snow.  We haven’t had much of it here in Kansas City (to my chagrin!), but when the snow comes, it leaves a beautiful scene of a pristine landscape.  The marks on driveways, the potholes in streets, the mix of fallen leaves and dirt patches on the yard are all covered up by a perfectly smooth blanket of white.  It’s idyllic.

But with one rain, sunshine or rise in temperatures, that snow will melt and reveal the imperfections beneath.  The psalmist is praying for a cleansing that endures, for a redeeming that goes well below the surface.

In yesterday’s verse segment it was hyssop.  Today, it’s a comparison with snow.  In both cases, and throughout the psalm, the writer is asking God to do what the writer cannot do for themselves.  In the same way, perhaps we can pray that God will cleanse us and our world.  Perhaps we could pray that prayer as fervently as children pray on a weekday evening when snow is in the forecast and there’s a glimmer of hope for a day off of school.  Let is snow, let it snow.

 

Prayer

Gracious God,

We pray for cleansing, for renewing, for the wiping away of the dirt of our lives.   Cleanse us not just on the surface, but cleanse us deep down.  We can’t do it ourselves;  it’s a gift from you.  A gift that you’ve actually already given.

Amen.