Archives for posts with tag: Christ

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.



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.


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.



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.



Rejoice16.  Rejoice

  “. . . let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.” 

– Psalm 51.8b

I’ve never broken a bone, have you?   The most dramatic bone breaking that I remember came in a Monday Night Football  game (if you’re a fan, you know where I’m going) and Lawrence Taylor of the NY Giants tackled quarterback  Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins and broke his leg, which was captured gruesomely on instant replay.   I can still hear the announcers saying “You might want to look away.”

Of course that was just football.  There are images from history that haunt us.  Images, for instance, of the killing fields of Cambodia with all of those skulls.   Or scenes of bones that were still in people, but just barely, such as with the gaunt survivors of the holocaust or famine victims from the Sudan or elsewhere.   All of those bones speak of suffering, much of it perpetrated by one human being on another.

At the front end of verse 51:8 our psalmist had written “Let me hear joy and gladness” — and now, part B, “let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.”   What a turnabout.  These crushed bones are a poetic expression of how devastated the writer feels under the weight and misery of their misdeeds.  Their bones feel crushed — but that’s not the end.  Now, the psalmist asks the Lord to allow that part of him which is most broken, most reduced, most devastated to not merely move on, not merely forget their sin, but to in fact rejoice.

When we think of a renewal among bones, perhaps you go to that valley that Ezekiel describes.  The prophet wrote, “The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.   He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.   Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.   I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”  (Ezekiel 37:1-6)

Whatever is crushed in us this Lenten season, let us receive the breath of the Lord, and live.


Dear Lord,

Wherever our lives feel most beaten down, most oppressed, most in despair — fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we may not just make it from day to day, but rejoice in this gift of life that you’ve graced us with.  But we also pray for others around the world who in their bones feel helpless, hopeless and full of despair.  Give them, this season, cause to sing and dance.  Let them rejoice.



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.


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.



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.





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Todays devotion consists entirely of an illustrated scripture reading from Matthew 27:1-60 as Jesus goes to the cross.

Matthew 27:1-60  

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When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.




images (19)3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”

5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

jesus_before_pilate_jekel11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.”

12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer.  13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?”  14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas.  17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”  18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.  19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”

20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.  21 The

Pilate Ecce-Homo-Antonio-Ciseri-1880governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.”

22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”   23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?”    But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”   25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!

26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

mocking of Christ 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him.  28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,  29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying,

“Hail, King of the Jews!”

30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head.


stripping of our Lord




31 After mocking him,

they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him.

Then they led him away to crucify him.





download (7)32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.  33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.  35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots;  36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him.  37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”


images (16) 38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying,  42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.  43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.'”

44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

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45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”

48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”


Jesus on cross


50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.







51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.  52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.


54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said,

“Truly this man was God’s Son!”





55 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus.  58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.

59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock.




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He then rolled a great stone

to the door of the tomb

and went away.





Matthew 26: 61-64images

At last two came forward  61 and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'”

62 The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?”

63 But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”



How often it is that opponents of Jesus unwittingly say the most ironic things.   “I put you under oath before the living God,” says the high priest, “tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”   It conjures up images of George Burns on the witness stand in the movie “Oh God!” in which he takes the oath, saying “So help me, me.”

How many ways do we put God to the test?   How many times do we call on God to perform for us, so as to prove that God is God?    How do we put God on the stand when it is we who are to be judged?



Dear Lord,

Forgive our insolence at times.

Forgive us for demanding explanations,

for putting you to the test,

for asking you to defend yourself,

for putting you on the stand.


We thank you for your patience,

forbearance,  and your mercy

as the one who is the judge,

and who rules with forgiveness

and love.




Matthew 26: 57-60  images (10)

57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered.  58 But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end.

59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death,  60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward.



I had a great Aunt named Lillie Mae.   She grew up in Philadelphia and her father was an alcoholic.  Finally, her mother threw her father out of the house, so bad was his drinking.  When Lillie Mae became a teenager, she got a job at a retail store in downtown Philadelphia.  She had to work at night but she was afraid of making that trip each evening.  So she would run from her house until she reached the relative safety of the bus stop.   She would learn later in life that each night she worked, her father was waiting for her in the shadows.  And as she ran to the bus stop, he would run along with her from a distance behind.

Peter deserted his Lord, but not entirely.  He followed at a distance, walking in the shadows.  He could have abandoned Jesus altogether.  And as we know, he will proceed to deny Jesus three times.  And yet, there was a measure of faithfulness in him that night as he stood by, watching.



Dear Lord,

Sometimes we can only muster up a small amount of faithfulness.

We may have failed you in many ways, but we still have that longing deep within to stick with you.

Take that mustard seed within each of us and nurture it, we pray, until our faith blossoms and we find that we can stand with you in broad daylight.



Matthew 26: 55-56images (1)

55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.  56 But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.”

Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.



I expect that Jesus knew it would happen all along.  Even when he called out to them along the sea of Galilee to follow him, I expect he knew that this night would come when all, not some, all of the disciples would desert him.   Did they go as a group, or did they slink away one by one — each making the choice, by themselves, to flee.  Some may have stepped away quietly, covertly walking among the shadows of night so as to avoid notice.   But I imagine some of them may have just run.

I expect we’ve “been there, done that” at one point or another.  Are you the slink-away type?  Or do you prefer to just flat our run from Jesus?

Of course he always gives us the option.  So which will it be?  Will we slink back to Jesus, or will we run back to him?



Dear Lord,

Forgive us for our weakness.

Forgive us for our fear.

Forgive us for our lack of conviction

to stand with you.  To not run.

Make us disciples anew, call us again,

give us the hope, the mercy, the challenge, the joy

to be your disciples again.