Psalm 51: Renew a right spirit within me

The season of Lent is a time of repentance, discipline, renewal. We remember our dependence on God and we confess our need for His grace. We are called to renew our faith that our lives may be transformed by God’s love and forgiveness.

Psalm 51 is a lenten prayer of confession, regret and repentance.St. Anne's Church It is a cry for forgiveness: “have mercy,” “blot out,” “wash me, cleanse me” from a person who has committed a great transgression, a person who is in some very deep trouble.

Alongside these bold imperatives, the psalmist offers powerful descriptions of who God is and how He displays His compassion: “according to your steadfast love,” “according to your abundant mercy,” “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” “restore to me the joy of your salvation.”

The psalmist trusts that God will have mercy on the truly repentant. From a posture of humility and brokenness, he receives from God a clean heart, a right and a willing spirit.

Lent is a time to reflect on what Jesus’ life, suffering, and death means for each of us, and what changes we need to make in our lives because of His great sacrifice. “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!”

We begin our journey to the cross with Jesus and with each other. For some this is a new untrodden journey. For others a familiar and well-loved road. It is not an easy journey, but one marked with loss and sacrifice and death.

But we must know this loss to allow God to fill us up cross pic at sunrisewith his love and spirit. We must know this sacrifice to show fully our gratitude to God for his promises. We must know this death to know a new and abundant life in Christ.

Neither sin nor death will have the final word. Christ has conquered death, and nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Lenten Journey

WE BEGIN OUR JOURNEY TO THE CROSS
WITH JESUS – WITH EACH OTHER.

FOR SOME A NEW UNTRODDEN JOURNEY,
FOR OTHERS A WELL-LOVED ROAD.

NOT AN EASY JOURNEY, BUT ONE MARKED
WITH LOSS AND SACRIFICE AND DEATH.

BUT WE MUST KNOW THIS LOSS THAT GOD
MAY FILL US UP WITH HIS LOVE AND SPIRIT.

WE MUST KNOW THIS SACRIFICE TO SHOW
OUR GRATITUDE TO GOD FOR HIS PROMISES.

WE MUST KNOW THIS DEATH TO KNOW
NEW AND ABUNDANT LIFE IN CHRIST.

Living the Psalms: Thanksgiving, Song & Psalm 67

Psalm 121, my church’s “summer Psalm”, is in many ways a prayer for the individual calling out from a personal setting and experience: I lift my eyes, where is my help? Bradley embracing God s beautyBy God’s invitation, we are given the privilege and freedom to offer particular and specific petitions like Psalm 121 or Psalm 18:6, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” We desire this intimacy with God, the comfort and confidence of knowing that we have his undivided attention. A confidence that isn’t self-serving or ambitious, but a confidence marked by humility and constancy. We are encouraged by Paul in Philippians 4:6 to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

From the benefit of our individual petitions, we can boldly pray as a church and as a family Psalm 67: “Let the peoples praise you, O God. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.” We, as the church, believe our help comes from the Lord. We have felt his protection from the sun and moon, so now we can ask for His graciousness, his blessing, the light of his face to shine all over us.

From the rising to the setting sun, His love endurPsalm 67 is my church’s Psalm for autumn and our season of thanksgiving and song. From September to November we have sought the discipline of thanksgiving through the singing of beloved hymns of the faith (Great is Thy Faithfulness, Guide me o Thou Great Jehovah, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, Amazing Grace) and the memorizing of Psalm 67. Perhaps you are in a season of great need and you are lifting your eyes to the hills seeking the mercy of the Lord.

Perhaps you are in a season of answered prayer and need a reminder to give thanks to the Lord. May the benefits of a solitary prayer like Psalm 121, and a collective prayer like Psalm 67, be our guiding words this week of Thanksgiving. As we gather with family and friends round tables and in living rooms, may we offer with one another assurance – our help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, who will not let us stumble. And likewise, as we drop people off at the airport or bring them back to college or get in cars to travel the distance, may we turn to each other saying – May God be gracious to you, may God bless you, may His shine upon you. Amen

Living the Hope of Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?

I lift up my eyes, where is my help?

I’m looking up, I’m looking out! Where, where – where is my help?!

I’ve known these words from Psalm 121 for a long time. Sung them, read them, prayed them many times. How often in my prayers have I stopped at this first verse. Even when I know the answer lies in the next verse – still it is hard in the valleys of life to get past that first question and wonder if I am being heard.

But, oh how much I miss when I stop at that first verse. In one verse, I call out to the Lord. And with seven more verses the Lord gives back to me His promises. For that one verse of anguish and uncertainty, the Lord returns each unspoken petition with a promise. During our church’s summer season of Prayer and Petition and Psalm 121, I sought the comfort and assurance of verses 2-7 that are sometimes elusive.

I live in New Hampshire each summer. It is a good annual respite – a sabbatical of sorts – for this New EnglandeDSCN4377r now living in the midwest. On my daily morning walks, as I prayed over Psalm 121, I looked up at the wild green hills and trees of Mt. Monadnock. In the shadow of those massive hills and trees, one could easily feel overwhelmed or insignificant and call out – where, where is my help?  But with each step and each day, the words of Psalm 121 took root in my head and my heart with renewed confidence – my help comes from the Lord, my help comes from the Lord, my help comes from the Lord.

Even though Psalm 121 is the kind of descriptive poetry that I relate well to, I decided I needed to establish “ownership” of these words in a new way.  By putting the prayer of Psalm 121 into my own words, and I was able let them indwell with a new articulated purpose.

I am the only one who will give you the help you need. I will not let you stumble or fall, but will help you persevere. I will protect you, take care of you.

I never stop watching out for you. You can sleep because I never sleep. I never even close my eyes. I am your defender, protector. I am your shelter from life’s challenges.

I am present; I am as close to you as your right hand – always by your side to defend and protect. I will protect you 24 hours a day from the harsh physical elements. When you forget to take care of yourself, I will not.

There is nothing too evil in this world that I cannot protect you from it. I will be the guardian over your whole life and I will keep you safe.

I will guard every moment of your life. When you are born and when you die. But also every morning when you wake up and go about your day. When you leave for school or come home from the office. When you go to the grocery store or come home from the soccer field. When you visit a friend in need, or when you come home from a doctor’s appointment. I will be there. Forever.

My prayer is daily, sometimes hourly. In the fall, back in the midwest, I may no longer have the hills as a physical reminder to lift my eyes.  But the need to lift my focus out of myself is ever present.  To look outward and upward and remember: My help, my help, my help – comes from the Lord, Savior and Keeper of my life. Amen.

Living the Psalms from Generation to Generation

Aside

Dawn at GEECCBeginning this summer, my home church is embarking on a yearlong journey of worship in the Psalms. Having received a grant from the Calvin Institute of Worship and the Lilly Foundation, we desire to strengthen and encourage our commitment to intergenerational worship and creative excellence in all aspects of worship (prayer, music, visual arts, spoken proclamation, and liturgy).

Our grant year is divided into four seasons with one Psalm corresponding with each season: Petition and Prayer (Psalm 121); Thanksgiving and Song (Psalm 67); Adoration and Light (Psalm 24); Lament and Renewal (Psalm 130).  Spending several weeks resting in one Psalm and focused on a specific worship practice, we hope to form lasting and meaningful Christian habits across the ages.  Look for our stories of Living the Psalms in the year ahead.  And join us in testifying to God’s faithfulness and love shown to us through the poetry and passion of the Psalms, and reflected in our own lives.

Devotions to Pentecost. “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20.

Even with God’s physical revelation of the risen Jesus, some still have doubts. In this encounter with Jesus, seeing is not necessarily believing. How could they witness the divine miracle of the risen Jesus and still have doubts? We see that there is no guarantee that we will receive the blessing of belief, with or without physical proof.  Some of the eleven still have doubts because they cannot see Jesus with their hearts. Faith is kept from them. What might be keeping us from faith? How might the Lord soften our hearts today?

Jesus gives them his authority to baptize in the name of the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Without this command and power, they will have no authority to forgive and baptize. Even in our weaknesses and doubts, God invites His people to join Him in His will for the world, in His mission of reconciliation and salvation for His people.

Jesus’ holy command is all-inclusive: the disciples must share the gospel with all peoples, all nations, with all authority from above, and with the constant presence of Jesus. Jesus is our advocate with the Father, our forgiveness and justification before God, and our hope to the end of the age.

God is calling us to be a part of His mission of salvation for His creation. Are we ready to leave our plans behind and follow Him today? 

Devotions from Easter to Pentecost. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:24-29

Aside

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:24-29

risen LordWhat obstacles do we put up that keep us from believing God? For Thomas, it was the physical Jesus with scars from his crucifixion that he could touch. How are we like Thomas? What proof do we demand of God in order to believe His promises?

 

Thomas could have missed out on the blessing Jesus gives to those who have not seen and yet have believed. But at Jesus’ command, Thomas does stop doubting and believes.

Jesus honors Thomas’ need to see him to believe. God will honor our need as well and meet us where we are. But God will not be tested. It is because of His persistent love for us that God reveals Himself to us in unique and personal ways.

Faith is a gift from God and, in that moment, God gives Thomas just what he needs to have faith. Jesus opens his eyes and his heart so that Thomas may receive him as his Sovereign Lord. And all generations to follow, who must believe without seeing, are blessed by this divine action.

 

Devotions from Easter to Pentecost. Peace be with you! John 20:19-23

On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  John 20:19-23

Joy sustains us; fear is debilitating.  Jesus breaks into the disciples’ fear and gives his peace to them. He gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit to be ambassadors of peace and righteous power to the world – without it they are just grown men covering behind locked doors.

God has the power to give us peace in our hearts and peace in the world. To be at peace with God is to live in harmony and forgiveness with Him and with His people.

As God sent His son Jesus, so Jesus sends his brothers, the disciples. We too are sent by the authority of Jesus, and fueled with passion and truth by his Spirit. We do not decide our own mission or vision for the world. We are commissioned by Jesus to do the will of the Father. And God’s will for us – as individuals and as a church – is to live lives of reconciliation.

God has forgiven us through his son’s death and resurrection, so too must we forgive those around us. Reconciliation leads to God’s healing of broken lives, his defeat of evil, and the release of  mercy and righteousness into our fallen world.

Almighty God, may we live out your call to reconciliation in our relationships and in our churches. Amen

Devotions to Pentecost. Their eyes were opened. Luke 24:13-31

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem. They were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, Jesus took break, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.

These disciples do not recognize the risen Jesus because he is not what they are expecting.  All that Jesus can offer them in and through his resurrection is beyond their imagining.  In this encounter, Jesus continues to care for his community – teaching them, breaking bread with them.  He shows them that the Word of God is alive – it breathes life into us and allows us to move forward in our witness. He takes them back to the beginning of scripture and all that he taught them during his life. They do not understand the fulfillment of God’s Word so their eyes are kept from recognizing him.

It is in the midst of fellowship and communion that their eyes are opened. Each time our church shares in the breaking of bread together, Jesus is made known to us. We see Jesus for who he is: his body broken that our broken lives and broken world may be made whole again.

Devotions to Pentecost. “Do not be afraid.” Matthew 28:1-10.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell His disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them, “Greetings,” He said. They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
footsteps

Women are the first witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, the first to proclaim the good news. They see the living Lord, fall to His feet, and worship Him. At His feet, Jesus commissions the women to tell the disciples all they have seen and heard – to testify to the truth of the resurrection.

From a posture of worship they move into mission, trembling with fear and stumbling over one another in joy. There is no pause in their actions. They do not stand around wondering if they should trust their vision. They do not take time to discuss how best to share this news. The Lord calls them to be His messengers and their response is reflexive and immediate. Their witness to the disciples becomes the witness to the world.

The women at the tomb did not hesitate to tell the good news of the risen Lord. May the Holy Spirit help us today – to take away whatever may impede our response to tell the good news of Jesus Christ.