NO Pit TOO Deep

Look UP!

Psalm 130

Friday, July 15, 2022 

                The comedic author Erma Bombeck once wrote a book entitled: “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits.”  It’s a funny play on words using “the pits” as the antithesis of the good life.  The “pits” she’s talking about are not really cherry pits, those things you spit out after you have eaten the deliciously sweet cherry, but the pits of despair.  Webster’s Dictionary defines  “the pits”: “something that is very bad or unpleasant. You caught the flu on your birthday? That’s the pits! This rainy weather is the absolute pits.”

                You’re in the pits when things are going horribly wrong, or when you are feeling low.  You feel low when you are depressed, like there is something heavy weighing down on you.

                Psalm 130 is known as a penitential psalm (Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143).  It starts out very low, “Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD”.  This person is in deep despair because they are weighed down by feelings of guilt.  They have done something terribly wrong and they are weighed down with the heaviness of regret.

                In the Bible there are stories of people who are down in the pits of despair who cry out to God.  When Joseph was taken by his brothers and thrown into a dry cistern down in the earth, he was in the pit.  When Jonah was swallowed by the whale (or great fish), he was in the pit.  When Daniel was thrown into the den of lions he was in the pit.  But each of these people when they were in the pit cried out to God.  And that’s what this Psalm writer does from the depths, they cry to God.  They cry for mercy.

                They acknowledge that it is only by God’s mercy that they are able to get out of that pit.  If God kept a perpetual record of our sins that we had to carry around with us all of our lives none of us could stand under the weight.  Imagine trying to swim holding a 100 lb barbell in your hands… you would sink to the bottom in an instant. 

                Psalm 130 is also one of the songs of ascents.  This selection of Psalm from Psalm 120-134 were sung by worshippers journeying to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God by offering sacrifices.  They would sing the songs of ascents as they climbed up Mt. Zion.  They would sing them as they walked up the steps to the temple bringing with them their sin offering, their guilt offering and other reminders of their need for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

                Notice as the Psalm begins they are “in the depths crying for mercy” lamenting that no one can stand in God’s presence as long as God remembers their sins.  But feel them rising up as they get closer to the top of the mountain, closer to Jerusalem, closer to the temple, closer to God.  There is the hope of forgiveness.  There is this longing for God, they are waiting with their whole being for God, they are putting their hope in God.  As they look up and draw closer to God they are literally coming up from out of the pits, out of the depths of misery and despair into God’s mercy and forgiveness into the arms of God’s unfailing love and full redemption.  They are being bought from slavery to sin and given freedom in God.

                So many people today, like this Psalmist, are in the pits.  The rates of depression are incredibly high.  A study in 2020 showed that 37 million Americans take anti-depressant medication (the numbers undoubtedly have gone up in the 2 years since then due to Covid lockdowns).  Over 100,000 people died in 2021 from opioid/fentanyl overdoses.  People take these pain killers not for physical pain but to try to relieve existential pain and despair.  Suicide rates are rising because people find themselves in the pits and can’t find a way out. 

                Psalm 130 says to them and to us…. Look up, there is a way out.  God is the way out of that pit of despair.  God rescued Joseph from the pit and  he became the most powerful man in all of Egypt and saved his whole family from starvation.  God rescued Jonah from the pit of the whale and Jonah preached salvation to the entire city of Nineveh and they were restored to God.  God closed the mouths of the lions and Daniel was rescued by God from the pit of lions.  Even Jesus was in the pit of despair on the cross from which he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as he took the total weight of the sin of the world on his shoulders.  God rolled back the stone and rescued Jesus from the pit of the tomb and brought him out to everlasting life.

                There is no pit too deep for God to bring you out of if you will cry out to him, look up and move toward him.  Ascend from the depths of despair to God’s mercy and forgiveness and true life through faith in Jesus Christ.

-Jeff Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

1.        When was a time that you were in the pits?  How did God help you out of that pit?

2.       If you’ve experienced God’s saving hand in the pit, who can you share that hope with to help them out of the pit?

Love that Endures Forever

Thursday July 14, 2022

Psalm 136

            “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

                        “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

            “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

                        “We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?”

That takes me back over 40 years to my high school days.  The cheerleaders out on the sidelines leading the call and response cheer to help get the crowd involved and pumped up to keep the team motivated.

            Call and response is a part of the culture.  In music, particularly jazz and some rock and roll,  the call and response is a form of music with a long history.  One instrument plays a riff, and another answers back.

            Call and response is a big part of African worship.  I once preached a community service with several hundred in attendance including a sizeable contingent of black worshippers who really got into the call and response and kept me, the preacher, energized.

            The call and response is an old form of worship and Psalm 136 is a great example of how call and response was incorporated into the ancient Hebrew worship tradition.  As you look through this great Psalm of praise and worship it’s all about call and response.  One calls out,  “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good” and the other responds right back, “His love endures forever”.  The other calls back, “Give thanks to the God of gods.” And the other responds: “His love endures forever.” And so it goes, call and response, call and response.  It’s an interactive prayer in two voices and it tells a powerful story of Israel’s gratitude to God for his endless love and mercy and faithfulness to his people.

            With each successive call, this Psalm tells the story of God’s greatness.  God is greater than anything else that people worship.  God’s greatness is revealed by his acts of creation. He made the heavens, the lights, the sun and moon and stars, this part of the Psalm shows God’s universal greatness to all people.  Then, the Psalm shifts to how God reveals his greatness particularly to His people, Israel, by recalling the story of the Exodus and how God showed His faithfulness in delivering his people from slavery.

            With each call revealing God’s creative and saving acts there is a response proclaiming the permanence of God’s love.  The Hebrew word, “hesed” is a challenging one to translate.  If you look at various translations of Psalm 136 you will see it translated as love, mercy, steadfast love and faithfulness.  Hesed is a word so full of meaning that it takes a lot of words to try to capture the fullness of it’s meaning.  And that makes sense.  God’s love and mercy and faithfulness are so great and so dependable that it can’t be contained in one simple definition or translation.

            As you go about your day, pay attention to all of the ways that God reveals his love and mercy and faithfulness to you.  Be sure to give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, His love endures forever. 

            As an added bonus, listen to Michael W. Smith rock out on the song: Forever, which is based on this Psalm: https://youtu.be/3lPdtqgouCc

-Jeff Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

  1.  Choose one element of God’s power or character that is included in the Psalm and think about how God has revealed that to you in your life.
  2. Try writing your own Call and Response Psalm to God.  What parts of God’s story revealed in creation, the Bible and your own life experience would you include in the call?  Which element of God’s character would you magnify in the response?
  3. Do a word study on “Hesed” (Bible Gateway lets you compare multiple translations in parallel – for example, see Psalm 136:1 in various translations).  What would your definition of Hesed sound like?

The Words of the God You Love

Psalm 119

Wednesday, July 13, 2022 

            Back when I was a child, at Church camp when you stood in line for a meal they made you say a Bible verse.  Us young boys learned that John 11:35 was the “go to verse” for quick memorization: “Jesus wept.”   A two word verse, easy to memorize- boom “Jesus wept!” the legal requirements are met, now can I eat? 

            Bonus round—what is the shortest book in the Bible?  2 John or 3 John depending on how you measure it.  2 John has the fewest verses, 3 John has the fewest words.  For fun sake, Obadiah is the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible (The Old Testament).  We can argue about anything, can’t we?

            But there is no argument about the longest chapter in the Bible- Psalms 119 is the big winner.  Psalm 119 has 176 verses.  Compare that to the shortest chapter in the Bible – Psalm 117 which has only 2 verses. Not only is Psalm 119 unique because of its length, but its structure is quite unique as well.  Psalm 119 is written as an acrostic poem.  It is made up of 22 sections which are 8 verses each and each section begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with the first Hebrew letter “aleph” and ending with the final Hebrew letter, “taw”.  This was likely a device that helped the student to memorize the Psalm, which good little Jewish boys and girls did.

            Obviously with 176 verses we can’t look at the whole Psalm in one brief devotion and we won’t even try.  I’ll just point out something basic for you to consider and then focus on one section in some detail.

            Something basic for us to consider is that this Psalm is devoted to an appreciation of God’s Word.  Different Hebrew words are used in the Psalm including “Torah”, which can mean: “teaching, direction, guidance and law”; “Debar” which means “word” and “Misva” which means commandment or ordinance.  The entire Psalm is devoted to having a love for God’s word or commands or teaching.   This clear expression of love for God’s word is important.  In many places in the Bible, beginning in the Old Testament in places like Deuteronomy 6:5 , we are told to love the LORD/YHWH/God with all of our hearts.  Here in Psalm 119 we are told to also love God’s Word  or teaching.  Vs. 97 says “O how I love your ‘Torah’ (law/teaching) I meditate (think about/ponder deeply) on it all day long.”

            I don’t know about you but there are only a few things that I’ve ever thought about literally “all day long”. (One of them was my wife back when we first began dating, and another may or may not be Krispy Kreme hot donuts-they are beautiful and delicious and hot).  You usually only think about something constantly if it’s someone/thing that you really, really love a lot, or something that you are really, really worried about.  In the case of Psalm 119 it’s clear that the writer is thinking about God’s Word all day long because he/she loves that Word.

            Is there a difference between loving God and loving God’s Word?  In one way, yes.  There are people who diligently study the Bible simply as literature or history.  They tear it apart and analyze it like someone might dissect an animal or human cadaver or look at tiny things in a microscope.  But in this case, the person writing the Psalm loves God’s Word and thinks constantly about God’s Word because it’s God’s Word and this person loves God wholeheartedly so he also loves God’s teaching, instructions, commandments.  Jesus would later tell his disciples “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15).

            Let’s go back to that thing that I said I have literally thought about all day long (not the Krispy Kreme donut, but my wife, Karen, who is also beautiful, delicious, hot and begins with a K- sorry, but I needed to include that in order to embarrass any of my adult children who might be reading this devotion today, you’re welcome).   Because I love my wife I usually try to pay attention to the words she speaks to me. (I’ll admit, I’m not always perfect on this, but in my defense, sometimes she’s just talking to herself and I have to clarify who the intended listener is, me or herself, sometimes I miss the things that I’m supposed to hear).  Part of love is paying attention to the words spoken by the one we love.  So, for the Psalmist, he loved God so he also loved God’s word.  So for Jesus, if we love him we also need to keep his commandments/teaching/words.  So the overall theme of Psalm 119 is “I love God and so I also love God’s word.”

            The section of Psalm 119 I want you to think about is the second section- verses 9-16 which begins with the Hebrew letter “Beth” ב.  It begins with a question and answer:  “How can a young person stay on the path of purity?”  That’s a great question and reveals the important desire that forms the content of this person’s heart.  They love God so much that they want to know how to keep on the right path, the path of purity.  They want to know how to live a life that is pleasing in the sight of God.  The answer is by living according to God’s word.  If a person wants to walk a path that is pleasing to God then he or she needs to follow the word of God.  God has revealed to us, by His word, how to live a life that is pleasing to him.  We need to follow that path. 

            In order to stay on that path of purity we must be intentional.  We need to seek God with all of our heart.  Why do I want to pay attention to and follow God’s word?  Because I’m seeking God with my whole heart.  How do we avoid falling into sin? By putting God’s word deep into our hearts.  He speaks about the Law with strong emotional words: joy (rejoice), meditate and delight.  For him staying on a path that is pleasing to God brings him such joy that he is thinking deeply about God’s word all of the time and finds his delight in doing what God’s word says.

            You can love someone’s words without loving the person, but you really can not love a person if you don’t also care deeply about the words they use to convey what is important and meaningful to them.  The next time you look at your Bible, consider this: out of all the trillions of words that have ever been spoken or written in the history of the world, these words contained in this Bible are the words that were spoken by God to human beings in order that we might know, love and serve God.  So why would we not love the words that come from the God that we love, and why would we not obey the words that come from the God that we love?

            Do you want to keep your way each day pure (pleasing in God’s sight).  Then pay attention to those words each day, think deeply about them, immerse yourself in them, delight in them, find joy in reading and obeying them because you love those words because they are the words of the God you love.

-Jeff Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

  1.  Which words from today’s reading (Psalm 119) will you choose to think deeply about?
  2. Which words from today’s reading will you take special delight in thinking about?
  3. Which words from today’s reading will bring you the most joy?
  4. How will these words from God help you when you find yourself tempted to go in a direction that is not in keeping with loving God?

SHOUT!

Psalm 100

Tuesday, July 12, 2022  

            I love going to baseball games in a packed stadium full of loud and excited fans.  The same could be said for football, basketball, hockey or even soccer (but I’ve never been to a professional soccer game).  I’ll stick with baseball since it’s my favorite and I just went to a Washington Nationals game a few days ago.

            In sports they talk about having “the home team advantage”.  That comes with having the energy of thousands of cheering fans joining together to encourage you at just the right time, spurring you on, giving you that extra boost of adrenaline or confidence.  Who doesn’t get an extra boost by hearing people enthusiastically offer you encouragement?  If you’re on the pitching mound and your trying to get that last out, and 50,000 people are screaming for  you with every pitch, it has to give your fastball just a little extra pop.

            Games have their own rhythm and language. It’s very similar to a worship experience:  The National Anthem followed by the announcement of the line-up is like the call to worship.  The program is kind of like the bulletin.  There’s a big screen with information on it just as many churches have on the wall behind the pastor.  Instead of bread and wine for communion they serve beer/coke and hot dogs.  And just watch what people do when their team hits a home run- they stand up and raise their hands in the air and shout, just like they do in Church with a big hallelujah during a worship song.  When you go to games regularly you see the rhythm of the game and can anticipate what’s coming. (Be sure to stand up in the 7th inning for the stretch).  At times, they flash instructions up on the score board: “Let’s Go Nats” with a loud organist leading a kind of call and response.

            Psalm 100 is a powerful Psalm which instructs us in how to worship God.  It contains seven commands: Shout!, Worship, Come, Know, Enter, Give Thanks, Praise Him.

            There are certainly times and places when silence and solitude are very appropriate and meaningful forms of worship, but there are also times when God wants his people to rock the rafters off the room of the house.  Here God’s people are instructed to get loud and let the world know how great God is.  Don’t keep it to yourself, shout!

            The word for worship has to do with both worship and service.  Our public worship is united with our daily service to God.   We are to worship and serve God with gladness.  Worship and service are not a duty that we have to do, but a joy that we get to do.  Just as I go and happily cheer on my favorite baseball team (the Nationals), I get to come and worship my great and mighty God.

            Come before Him with joyful songs is a reminder of the importance of gathering.  In ancient Israel the people would come from all over the nation and beyond to gather at the temple of Jerusalem to praise and celebrate God.  Sure, I like watching baseball on a 60 inch flat screen t.v. with surround sound in my recliner, but it’s still not the same energy I get when I sit in a stadium with 40,000 people on a Saturday afternoon in June when the stadium is shaking and my ears are ringing.  During Covid lockdowns many were forced to worship in front of a computer screen, and that was better than not worshipping at all, but nothing beats coming together with other believers to sing joyful songs.  The Greek word for Church: ecclesia means literally “the assembly.”  True church needs to come together.

            The center command in Psalm 100 is to know.  Know that the Lord is the God who made us and that we are his people.  Jesus said that we are to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.  To know God with our mind means that we think about God, who He is and what He has done for us, his people.  We are blessed to have a written record- the Bible, coupled with the verbal record- the testimony of others so that we continue to know God with our minds and have God shape our thinking.

            The fifth command is enter His gates.  There is no longer a temple in Jerusalem for us to enter to worship, but we have Jesus and his Church as the true and living temple.  When we gather in the name of Jesus to bring worship to God we are entering his gate.

            We enter those gates to worship with thanksgiving.  Gratitude to God is foundational to true worship.  Failing to be grateful to God leads to all kinds of sin and brokenness.  Paul said it very clearly in Romans 1: 21,”For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. “  When we fail to give thanks to God and give God the glory it ruins our thinking and our hearts.  Take time every day to give thanks to God.

            The seventh and final command is Praise Him.  When someone hits the ball over the fence, everyone stands and cheers.  When the pitcher strikes out three in a row everyone stands and cheers.  The energy of the teammates and fans really does lift a player.  I had the benefit of watching the Nationals during the 2019 season when they won the World Series.  They were the most celebrated team: the crowd shouted, they danced, they screamed, they cheered and 40,000 people did the “baby shark” together.  I saw that team literally come back time and time again to win because the level of praise was so great.  If we can scream and shout and praise a man for hitting a home run or throwing a strike out, how much more can we praise the one who made us and gave us not only the gift of life today, but the hope of everlasting life in his coming Kingdom.

-Jeff Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

  1.  How much shouting do you do in worship?  If not much, what’s holding you back?
  2. What difference does it make to you in worship when you come together with other believers instead of just being alone?
  3. How often to do you tell God, “Thank You”?  Do you want to show your gratitude more to God?  What’s keeping you from doing it?

You Don’t Have to Pretend with God

Psalm 77

Monday, July 11, 2022

            I remember as a kid we had about a 30 minute drive to Church every Sunday.  Now, you put 2 adults and 3 kids in a car for a half hour and there’s bound to be some excitement, maybe even some conflict.  Somebody is going to say or do something to annoy someone else and that kind of stuff is contagious so that by the time we get to Church everyone’s cross with each other and in a bad mood.  But it always amazed me that when we got out of the car and walked into church people smile and we smiled back, how are you?  I’m fine, how are you.  It was like someone flipped a switch and we instantly turned off all of the bad feelings.  Was it really that easy?  Of course not.  We just stuffed the bad feelings back inside and pretended it was okay. 

            Human beings learn to do that a lot.  We hide our pain and gloss it over with fake smiles and civility.  Now, there’s a certain amount of this that is necessary.  If you work at Chick Fil A and you had a fight with your boyfriend before your shift started, the Jones family doesn’t want to buy your drama along with their chicken sandwich so you learn to tough it out, smile and at the end of the order respond, “My pleasure.”  But you can’t hide those bad feelings forever.  Everyone needs someone that they can go to and share their hurt and sadness and tears.  Ideally, church should be a place where we can do that, where we can find grace even on our worst days.  I realize that not all churches feel like safe spaces to share our painful emotions so some keep on pretending.

            The Bible reminds us over and over again that we don’t have to pretend with God.  The Psalms are an example of how open God is to receiving all of our feelings.  There are Psalms of joy and thanksgiving, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”!  There are also songs of complaint, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”  The Bible says that we should rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  God wouldn’t ask us to do something that He is not willing to do.  God is willing to share both our joyful moments and painful experiences.  God wants us to feel freedom to bring everything to him.  When you pray God wants you to bring your whole self to him, the parts that love and celebrate, and the parts that hurt and complain.  In fact, there is one type of prayer that is specifically about bringing our pain to God.  It’s called a prayer or a psalm of lament.

            Psalm 77 is a psalm of lament.  Take a minute to read Psalm 77 if you haven’t already.  There’s no warm up here- there’s no “Dear Lord, you are holy, great and glorious.  Dear Lord, on this day we thank thee for all they bountiful gifts and we ask thee to bless us…. Etc…”   Instead he jumps right in with essentially “God my life sucks right now and I keep telling you about it and I’m not getting anywhere.  Have you forgotten me God?”  That’s a prayer of lament.  There’s no pretense here.  God, things are terrible, I feel awful and it doesn’t feel like you even care.” 

            As you read Psalm 77 you might notice that the whole first half of the Psalm is just full of complaining.  It’s like the prayer brings all of these painful feels to God and gives a big emotion dump.  And then between vs. 9 and 10 I feel there’s kind of a pause… we got all of the pain and anger out on the table.

            Just as an aside, did you know that the practice of writing down a painful or traumatic memory can aid in the process of healing that trauma?  Something about the practice of writing actually moves the trauma from a part of your brain that has trouble letting go, to another part that is more able to deal with it.  Could it be that the very process of writing down his prayer of lament to God helped his brain begin the process of healing?

            In the second half of the Psalm he is able to think and remember differently.  He is able to recall all of the ways in the past that God has done miracles and healing and turned sadness into joy and darkness into light and death into life.  It’s a totally different feeling from the first half of the prayer.  The complaints have given way to praises.  The despair  has given way to hope.  The painful and traumatic memories have fallen away and revealed a powerful and compassionate God who can and will make all things right if we continue to trust and pour out our hearts to him.

            So next time you’re carrying a lot of pain and hurt, you might have to suck it up and sell someone their chicken sandwich and smile about it, but then when you have the space and the time, bring that pain to God in prayer and allow him to heal and transform your heart.

-Jeff Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

  1.  When you are hurting and need to tell someone how you are really feeling, who is your go-to person?
  2. When  was the last time you brought a painful feeling to God in a prayer of lament? 
  3. If you’ve never felt safe or comfortable bringing pain or complaint to God, bring that fear to God and ask God to help you explore what might be keeping you from feeling free to be open and honest with all of your feelings.

Guilt and Shame

Psalm 51

Sunday, July 10, 2022  

Do you remember the first time you disobeyed your parents or did something that you knew was wrong?  Chances are you felt guilty and ashamed.  Those are two different things. 

Let’s imagine that your Mom made fresh chocolate chip cookies.  After they cooled a bit she gave you two cookies and a glass of cold milk.  It was delicious!  Then, after she wiped the excess chocolate off of your hands and chin and nose she put the rest of the cookies in the cookie jar and she told you, “The rest of the cookies are for your Sunday School Class.  There’s enough for each person to have 2 cookies, but don’t you take any more or there won’t be enough.”  She goes about her activities, but all you can think about is the cookies.  They were so delicious and you’d like to have some more, but your Mom said “no more”.  When Mom’s not looking you go and grab another cookie and shove it down your throat as fast as you can before she sees.  You go back to coloring.  Your mom comes back in the room, looks at your face and says, “did you eat another cookie after I told you not to?”  You say “no, mommy”.  Then she asks “then why is there chocolate all over you face and fingers again?”

You’ve been busted.  If you’re like most people you’re feeling two things: guilt and shame.  You feel guilty because you did something wrong, you disobeyed your mom and stole the cookies after she told you not to and then you lied to her about it.  You also may feel shame.  “I’m a bad boy or a bad girl, I never listen to mommy, mommy’s going to hate me now and when the kids in my class hear what I did they’re gonna hate me too, and so will my teacher and so will the pastor when he finds out, and maybe even God will hate me.”

When we feel guilt we feel bad about something we have done (or sometimes what we didn’t do that we should have.)  When we feel shame we feel that there is something wrong with us.   I’m broken, I’m damaged, I’m bad, I’m evil.  Guilt and shame are both powerful and shattering emotions.  Is there any remedy for them?

Psalm 51 was written by King David.  I recently attended a musical about David at the Sight and Sound Theater.  It showed David’s life from the time he was a little shepherd boy until his death as King of Israel.  David was a great man, a man after God’s own heart.  Most of the Psalms in the Bible were written by David.  David killed the giant Philistine Goliath with stones and a sling.  David was good, but he was not perfect.  One of the worst things David ever did was commit adultery with his neighbor’s wife while his neighbor was off fighting in battle in David’s army.  David got his neighbor’ wife pregnant and then tried to cover up his sin.  In trying to cover up one sin David committed an even greater sin and had her innocent husband killed in battle.  It was an act of great treachery.  David succeeded in covering up  his sin so that no one else (he thought)  knew about it and then he took his neighbor’s wife to be his own.

David was later confronted by the prophet Nathan who revealed  his sinful act.  But even before his sin was revealed, David was not at peace.  His heart was mired in guilt and shame.  In the midst of his guilt and shame David cried out to God to be set free.  Psalm 51 is one of the prayers he prayed to God.  Take time to read through Psalm 51.  Imagine this powerful king in anguish before God.  He is so overcome by guilt and shame, that he had sinned and that he was a sinner, a wretched, broken man.  What David feared most was being alienated from God, from the joy of knowing God’s saving love and the power of having God’s spirit.

David knows that if he can be set free from his feelings of guilt and shame, the joy of God will come back to him and he will be able to powerfully declare God’s grace and mercy to other people who are also trapped in their guilt and shame.

Lots of people today are trapped in guilt for what they have done and shame for who they are.  So much of the evil we see going on in our world every day is born out of people trying to escape the bad feelings of guilt and shame. Rising rates of suicide and deaths from opioids, increased murder and sexual violence, the rage and confusion that so many feel all can be traced to feelings of guilt and shame and attempts to cover up or self-medicate the pain away. 

There is a better way.  David knew that true healing for his guilt and feelings of shame would only come from God.  Only God could bring real joy to His heart.  The same is true for all of us.  Jesus, who was both David’s descendant and the true son of God provides the only lasting solution to guilt and shame.  When Jesus went onto the cross he took upon himself the burden of our guilt for sins we committed and our feelings of worthlessness for having committed those sins.  In their place we are forgiven of those sins and discover our true identities, we are also children of God made in God’s image.

I John 1:8-9 says: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Chances are, after you told your Mom that you really did eat the cookie and said that you were sorry, she wiped your face, gave you a big hug and said “I love you, don’t do it again” and you felt a lot better.  Love covers over a multitude of sins.

-Jeff Fletcher

Reflection Questions:

  1.  Which do you find more painful- Guilt- I did something wrong, or Shame-There’s something wrong with me, I’m worthless?
  2. What are some of the ways we try to hide our guilt and shame?  Why do they often make things even worse?
  3. Is there still some guilt and shame hiding in your heart?  What is preventing you from going to God, confessing it to him and letting  him clean you up and give you a hug?

The 23rd Psalm

Psalm 23

Saturday, July 9, 2022

What comes to your mind when I say “The 23rd Psalm?”  Perhaps you know that it is the most famous of all the Psalms, or even the most well-known chapter of the Bible.  You might think, “Ahhh, the Shepherd Psalm.”  Maybe you remember its author, David, and that he was a shepherd boy.  Or, perhaps you know that Psalm 23 is identified as a Messianic Psalm, picturing Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  These thoughts are all reasonable when considering Psalm 23.  But here are my thoughts when the words “The 23rd Psalm” are said to me. 

I remember a little 4-year-old girl attending the Church of God Illinois State Conference Bible School in Oregon, Illinois in the summer of 1956.  During our lessons that week, the children in attendance were challenged to memorize Psalm 23.  The little girl thought she could memorize it just as well as her older brother, and she was determined to do so.  At the end of the week, each child was asked if he/she wanted to go in front of the gathered students, and recite this beautiful Psalm.  The little girl was shy, but went up in front, by her teacher, and proudly recited the Psalm.  There were a few missed words, but she finished well, and was applauded for her efforts.  She was so proud to receive a ribbon with a “Shepherd and sheep” seal upon it, as an acknowledgement of her accomplishment.  She kept that ribbon for years!

As I (the little girl, as you probably guessed) grew older, I would occasionally recite the psalm to myself.  Years later as an adult, I realized I couldn’t recite it anymore.  I was disappointed in myself.  I made an effort to re-memorize the Psalm, and now it is a part of me.

If you are sad, recite the 23rd Psalm.  Are you stressed, weary, needing direction?  Quote Psalm 23.  Is everything swirling about you, are the burdens weighing too heavily on your shoulders, is hope fast disappearing before you?  Say the 23rd Psalm to yourself.  It offers comfort, strength, and encouragement every time. 

As you say the words, picture yourself as a sheep, lovingly cared for by Jesus, our Good Shepherd.  He leads you to green pastures for grazing, quiet waters for a refreshing drink, and guides you THROUGH dangerous territory, “the valley of the shadow of death.”  He draws you close with his staff, and he rubs oil in any wounds you might have.  What reassurance and love the Shepherd gives his sheep.

As Jesus states in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

The 23rd Psalm’s words are a treasure to all who read or recite them, providing immeasurable solace in the midst of life’s challenges and troubles. 

The opening sentence actually sums it up.  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Questions for Reflection

  1.  When you hear the words, “The 23rd Psalm”, what comes to your mind?
  2. What scriptures provide comfort and peace to you?

Even on My Hardest Day

Psalm 22

Friday, July 9, 2022

Ever have a bad day? Maybe there were relationship troubles. Maybe a conflict or difficult day at work. Maybe all the little things just added up to having a no fun day. I know I’ve had days like that. But, when I read Psalm 22, I realized maybe my days aren’t that bad.

I’ve never been poured out like water with all my bones out of joint. There have never been lions and bulls all around me. ALL the people that saw me didn’t mock me and hurl insults at me. I have never been encircled by a pack of villains that pieced my hands and feet. Now, granted, the lions and dogs and bulls are metaphors for the enemies, but I wouldn’t describe the boy in kindergarten who told me I couldn’t cut well, or the girl who pushed me on the playground, as bulls or lions.

According to the notes in my study Bible, this psalm is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament. And, it fits Jesus’ circumstances, hence Jesus quoting the first part of it while on the cross. He was tortured and tormented for things he didn’t deserve, and I’m sure it hurt more than rude kids on the playground.

This psalm goes on, with David mentioning many hardships, but he doesn’t just ask God to magically fix his circumstances instantly. Instead, the end of the psalm talks about praising the LORD. That’s pretty impressive, and I think it should be a goal of mine, to take hard situations and continue to praise God and tell others about Him.

I’m going to use this psalm as a reminder of the no pain, no hardships time of the Kingdom. And to go about my days, whether difficult or seemingly easy, praising God and knowing that it’ll just get better in the Kingdom, because of what Jesus did for us and the plan God has for us.

-Moriah Railton

Application Questions

  1. Looking at Psalm 22 what descriptions do you find of the pain and agony Jesus endured while carrying your sins to the cross? Why do you think God chose this way to draw you close to Him?
  2. Why do you think Jesus quoted this Psalm on the cross?
  3. How can you focus on praising God even on the hard days?

No Words

Like God’s Words

Psalm 19

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Have you ever heard the phrase, “There are no words?”  Perhaps you used it in response to receiving a wonderful gift, when you couldn’t find the appropriate words to express your appreciation.  Conversely, maybe something tragic has happened, your heart is broken, and “there are no words” to express the magnitude of your grief. 

In verses 1-6 of Psalm 19, God reveals Himself in the glorious heavens and celestial bodies.  God’s greatness is proclaimed without a single sound—“NO WORDS.”  The amazing beauty of the skies—unique cloud formations, streaming sun escaping the clouds, indescribable sunrises and sunsets, breathtaking rainbows—boldly declare the majesty of God each day.  Searching for God?  Go outside and look up.  “There are no words.”

BUT, if you NEED words to find God, the second part of Psalm 19 is your answer.  In Psalm 19, God reveals Himself first in nature, (verses 1-6) and then in the Scriptures.  Verses 7-11 give us a perfect progression of what God’s Word, HIS WORDS, can do in our lives. 

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”  (7a) God’s Word gives us everything necessary for salvation.  His law, his commandments, revealed God’s holiness and our sin.  Paul wrote in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

“The testimony of the law is sure, (steadfast, trustworthy), making wise the simple.” (7b)  We can put our trust in God’s testimony—it will hold us up.  The “simple” are those open-minded to instruction.  James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously, and without reproach, and it will be given him.” 

“The statutes (precepts) of the law are right, rejoicing the heart.”  (8a) God’s Word is just and righteous.  As we understand more and grow in wisdom of God through His Word, it brings joy and gratitude.  Consider Hezekiah, king of Judah, who honored God by repairing the house of the Lord and called the people to consecrate themselves and gather to worship.  Greater understanding produced tremendous joy in the people.  II Chronicles 30: 21, 23 says, “The sons of Israel present in Jerusalem celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with great joy, and the Levites and the priests were praising the Lord day after day with loud instruments to the Lord.  Then the whole assembly decided to celebrate the feast another seven days, so they celebrated the seven days with joy.”

“The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”  (8b) Purity of God’s Word gives us new vision for this life and the one to come.  Matt. 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  And consider Ephesians 5:8, “for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.” 

“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever.” (9a) Why is the Word of God called “the fear of the Lord?”  When God reveals His will, it is awesome!  God’s will is fearsome because of our sin, and when we are confronted with it, we realize how unrighteous we are. 

Consider Josiah, the boy who became king of Judah when he was eight years old.  Though II Kings tells us he did right in the sight of the Lord, when he was 26, a high priest found a book of the law in the house of the Lord and a scribe read it in the presence of the King.  “When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes.”  II Kings 22:11.   

Josiah realized that his people were not following God’s laws, and idol worship had crept into the land.  Josiah instituted reforms that destroyed the idols.  “Before him there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart, all his soul, and all his might, in conformity to all the Law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.”  II Kings 23:25

“The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. (9b) We can depend on God’s judgments.  They are true, trustworthy, and righteous, as Josiah discovered, as we can discover in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”  Our future is secure, eternal life, because the judgments of the Lord are true. 

Have you FOUND God as you meditate on His Word?  Have you FOUND God as you gaze at the heavens?  He is in plain view, accessible, desiring to be part of our lives, each and every day.  No AUDIBLE WORDS are needed.  But if you would like to respond to His glorious presence in the skies and in His Word, speak out loud the last verse of Psalm 19, as your humble prayer.

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
    be pleasing in your sight,
    Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”  Psalm 19:14

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Questions for Reflection and Application

  1.  What part of God’s creation moves you to say, “There are no words?” 
  2. Think about Josiah.  The Bible tells us he did right in the sight of the Lord at a very young age, and yet at age 26, he realized how much he and his people needed to improve.  Does Josiah’s story help you realize how much we need to keep growing and learning from the Lord?  (It helps me realize it.) 

The Peoples Plot

Psalm 2

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

A desire for fame, power, or wealth has led numerous nations, peoples, kings, and rulers to disregard God’s word, and commit evil acts. These acts are questioned by the author of Psalm 2, likely David. He asks, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalm 2:1). Further, the “kings of the earth” and “rulers” are against not only God, but against “His anointed” as well (Psalm 2:2). Those that God anoints, ultimately and most significantly referring to Jesus, share a common desire and goal with God, so those that go against God’s anointed ones go against God Himself. 

David continues the Psalm by describing how pointless it is for the earthly rulers to act against God. Back in verse one he mentions how the plotting is in vain, so the people are constantly unsuccessful in overthrowing God’s plans. David suggests that God even laughs at them for trying (Psalm 2:4), as He is omnipotent and already had a plan for a new king. God’s plan involved David as King and his eventual descendants. He promised to David that “[his] house and [his] kingdom will endure forever before [God]; [his] throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). David paraphrases this prophecy in verses 6-9 of Jesus coming as a descendant of David to rule over the world. There will be a time when evil is destroyed, and God and Jesus will reign forever in the Kingdom of God. 

Most of the rest of the chapter is a warning to kings, rulers, and leaders to follow God and those he anoints: specifically, Jesus, the Son of God. Following God requires dedicated service to God and His Son. David uses the phrase “Serve the LORD with fear” (Psalm 2:11), which could be interpreted as genuine service to God with knowledge of His amazing power, mercy, and grace, and not simply an action to check off a list. The idea of serving God is modified to include serving and following God’s Son who would come after David.

The chapter ends with a reflection of the beginning of Psalm 1. The book of Psalms begins by stating “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD and who meditates on His law day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2). Psalm 2 questions the logic of the nations and kings that don’t follow God, but rewards those that do follow God by explaining that “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 2:12). 

Psalm 2 was written mainly as a reminder for the people in the time of David to follow God and “take refuge in Him” (Psalm 2:12), but it has many applications to other people. For example, in Acts 4, believers quoted the first two verses of Psalm 2 after Peter and John were told by the Sanhedrin to not “speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). They recognized that those in charge of the Sanhedrin were going against God’s word, and Peter and John decided to continue following God’s way. They, and all the believers with them, prayed for God to “consider their threats and enable [God’s] servants to speak [God’s] word with great boldness”, in addition to prayers for healing and miracles (Acts 4:29-30). God quickly responded to their prayer and “the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31). God gave them the courage and strength to continue serving Him, even with threats against them. 

In today’s society, there are some who “conspire”, “plot in vain”, “rise up”, and “band together against the LORD and against His anointed” (Psalm 2:1-2), but it is still possible to remain faithful to God. Prayer can help to develop a relationship with God and “take refuge in Him” (Psalm 2:12). Those that do will be blessed and the nations will be the inheritance received according to Psalm 2:8. Similar wording is used in Revelation 2:26-27 when Jesus states that, “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’” (Revelation 2:26-27). Following God and Jesus throughout persecution while others are rebelling against God will result in a blessing in the Kingdom of God of eternal life ruling under God and Jesus after evil has been destroyed.  

-Josiah Railton

Reflection Questions

  1. At whom or what do you think God may currently be laughing – scoffing at their actions? (In other words, what in today’s world is evil, rising against God? And is God scared?)
  2. How will you serve the Lord with fear amongst those who rise up against the Lord?
  3. How will the story end?
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