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

 

 

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?

Prayer

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 . . .

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

 

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

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