By Lucas Newell
I am not a Theologian. Nor am I a philosopher. Neither am I a half-decent devotional writer. So when I was asked to write a devotional, I freaked out. I hadn’t planned it, I wasn’t ready for it, and I didn’t really want to do it. However, it doesn’t seem that my shepherd was leading me away from the task, but towards it.
Nevertheless, when I sat down to write this, I immediately hit a wall. How exactly does one write about a Psalm that is universally well known? What should my focus be? How can I create this in a way that it relates to those who read it? Questions like these flew through my mind as I sat staring at a blank screen, thinking and thinking about what I should do. The path I was supposed to take was clouded, and I was stumbling around like a blind man.
After three hours and twenty-three minutes of agonizing, procrastinating, and eating ice cream, it finally hit me: the path I was supposed to follow was detailed right there in the words I was mulling over unsuccessfully. The reason I could not see the path was because I was supposed to be led down it. I was to be led by the gentle and comforting rod and staff of God “in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
Often, we get so caught up in trying to create the future that we forget that we are supposed to live in the present. We are where we are because our good shepherd has led us there. Despite the rough times, the inevitable treks through the “valley of death,” and the terrifying banquets held in the very presence of our enemies, we are promised that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives should we elect not to want the future, but instead to be content in the present we have been placed. Even if we cannot see such blessings in the fog of life’s uncertainties, we can be content in the comfort of direction of the Lord our shepherd. And that’s something I’m willing to put my faith in.
By Mary Johns
Have you ever had trouble going to sleep or staying asleep? Do you ever wonder if God listens and answers your prayers? In Psalm 4, David is demanding and assertive with God when he prays his evening prayer: Answer me when I pray to you!! Make things easier for me when I am in trouble! Have mercy on me and hear my prayer!
David is certain that the Lord has chosen him and others who are loyal to God. He believes God listens, he does what is right and he trusts God. He is happy knowing that he is a chosen member of the family of God. He is happier than those with much more material goods than he has.
I imagine David had to fear for his life and his safety in his time on earth. Although there are times I fear the cruel and corrupt governments and people who want to destroy Christians or America, the thoughts that keep me up at night seem smaller. Will I get everything done I need to do! Lord, heal my sick friend or relative! Why did I do or say what I did!! Many folks my age have trouble sleeping and maybe we worry about too many small things. I love the ending of Psalm 4: “I go to bed and sleep in peace, because, Lord, only you keep me safe.” What a wonderful evening prayer! May we all trust that God will keep us safe and let us sleep in peace!
By Mike Neely
This Psalm states in verse 1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live in unity”. The Psalmist goes on to state in verse 2: “It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard”.
What do you think of when the word “unity” is used? This word, or variations of this word, is used frequently. For example, the United States of America utilizes a variation of this word. Certainly, each state that comprises the United States is different; yet, each citizen of individual states and the United States live in unity under the Constitution of the United States and of individual states. Our ideals and principles “unite” us as a land of liberty and freedom.
Similarly, although there are many different denominations that together comprise Christianity, “unity” exists via our common belief in God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Of course, differences exist between some of these denominations, some of which diminish “unity”.
The Psalmist stresses in this Psalm that “living in unity” is akin to “precious oil poured on the head”. Although in today’s culture, we may not identify very much with “precious oil poured on the head”, in Biblical times being anointed with oil was very special and there are many stories in the Bible about being anointed with oil.
How wonderful it would be if we would strive to live more in unity!! This could include being united in various causes and lending our support, ideas and gifts to further these causes, whether they would involve supporting efforts to diminish or end human trafficking, helping the homeless, working in the community garden, cleaning up the church building and grounds, supporting missions or so many other ministries of our church.
Please pray about living more in unity with fellow Christians and with others.
By Garrett Vickrey
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
My calendar is wrong.
Typically, weekly calendars start with Sunday at the left margin and move to Saturday at the far right. But, I’m a preacher. And my week leads up to Sunday. My calendar begins with Monday and ends with Sunday so that I can organize my week in order to prepare myself for the big day. And that’s fine except that we worship on Sunday for a reason.
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, Mary and crew came to the tomb to care for Jesus’ body. They came to wrap up and put to rest that which was ending. What they found instead was a new beginning. In the emptiness of the tomb they found the fulness of time where God’s promises come to fruition. The end was the beginning. The empty was full. The future was now. Their fear was their joy.
Christians began worshipping on Sundays because it was the resurrection day. The 8th day of creation. New creation begins on Sunday. And so it is right to tell time in light of the light that burst forth from the tomb that fateful Sunday. Rather than ending the week in worship, we begin with worship so that it will shape our lives for the rest of the week. Rather than meeting to worship in the light of day in a joyful place early Christians met in graveyards and catacombs before the light of day (partly because they had to get to work on time). What were symbols of death became symbols of new life after the resurrection.
This liturgy of paradox might be frustrating to some. Paul says the cross could be a stumbling block to many. It is a stumbling block because of it’s paradoxical truth. The truth that in the end is the beginning. That new life comes from death. That in emptying ourselves we are filled by God to be who we were created to be in the first place. That’s the dance of creation in which we find ourselves. And that dance is best described in paradox. It is enlightening as it is frustrating. G.K Chesterton wrote in his work Orthodoxy, “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” Reason sometimes leads us to competing truths which might seem to contradict each other.
This is why Jesus taught through paradox, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Jesus said, “The first shall be last, the last shall be first.” Perhaps that has as much to do with time as it does with space.
If so, maybe my calendar is right after all.
Maybe I can base my weeks looking forward to the day of New Creation, while at the same time celebrating the coming of that creation each Sunday recognizing and living in the strength and hope this new day brings. As long as we are looking forward toward the new day God brings with expectation, and not dwelling on the past or resigning ourselves to be defined by it, we can be faithful to Easter’s paradoxical truths. You are judged and loved. You are sinners and children of God. God is in control, but we have free will. Jesus was divine and human. Jesus died, but lives. The 8th day of creation is the 1st day of new creation.
Happy Easter. It’s a whole new day!
By Lori Tyler
Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16
David was a man after God’s own heart. David was called by God. He worshiped Him with all his being. His Psalms praise God as King of Creation, Lord of All, and Light of the World. David knew his place. God was God, and he was not. But I think David was a man after God’s own heart, not just because of his faithful praise, but also because of his neediness for God’s refuge and help in his life.
In Psalm 31 he is running from Saul who is pursuing him. David is crying out for deliverance from his enemy. He is a man in distress and trouble. We are familiar with the many Psalms that praise God for who He is — mighty, majestic, a faithful Savior. But do we remember the Psalms that are open, honest, and raw before God?
It is good to know that we can pray a selfish prayer every once a while. A prayer to protect us from harm, watch over our children or help us in a difficult situation at work. We can run to Him for refuge and safety. He is, after all, Our Deliver, Our Refuge, and Our Savior. I want to praise Him for his holiness and majesty. But I’m sure glad He’s also there to hear about my worries and needs.
A healthy spiritual life, I think, means that we can be a little selfish every once in a while. David shows it’s OK to be afraid, to be anxious, to need God to step in when we feel out of control. Isn’t that what Easter is all about? Your salvation and mine was out of our control. We can’t save ourselves. Sin was the enemy, the winner. We needed a little, OK a lot, of help. Thankfully, what David knew and what Easter reminds us about is that God offers a love so great that His life was sacrificed for mine. Wow, what a beautiful reminder of the lopsided relationship we have with God! A selfless love for a selfish life.
By David Goree
Years ago I was in a play at Manor Baptist Church. The play had two characters: Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot. I played Judas.
The play portrayed the two disciples meeting after they had each betrayed the Lord in their own ways. Let me tell you: it was difficult for me to deliver Judas’s lines, how he was glad he did what he did and how he rationalized it. It was made even more difficult by our excellent director, who was a devotee of Method Acting. I couldn’t simply “act” my lines. Oh no. I had to live my lines. I had to become a bitter, sarcastic Judas, sputtering my contempt for the ones I had betrayed. To tell you the truth, it kind of messed with my mind. I remember saying a short prayer before and after each rehearsal: “Remember, Lord, this is just a play. These lines do not represent my views.” The prayer was for my benefit, of course, not God’s. God understands the concept of acting, even my cringe-worthy over-acting. Still, I had a hard time connecting with such dark human emotions–especially in the church sanctuary in front of the congregation.
I was reminded of dark emotions when I read Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
Psalm 22 is a difficult passage to read. The Psalmist’s images are so evocative. He says, “I am poured out like water” and “My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.” The despair and pain are so palpable and so painfully honest. The passage is a plea from a person who has run out of options, run out of hope and nearly run out of faith.
Amazingly, Jesus redeems these dark emotions when he repeats the Psalmist’s words from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, Jesus gathers our fears and doubts and bitter disappointments and binds them to His own suffering—if we will accept it. I suppose we could keep our emotions at arm’s length, like bad actors, or, better yet, we could own up to our pain, fears and doubts and lay them at the foot of the cross.
By Bridgette Langford
Psalm 116 :1-2, 12-19
On this Thursday before Easter known at Maundy Thursday, we are to remember the importance of the commandments that Jesus instructed his disciples to obey at the Last Supper. They were to love with humility by serving one another and to remember his sacrifice.
As we reflect on this event and what Christ told his disciples, we should remember that this command applies to us. Just as the Psalmist expresses the Lord hears our cries, we are to hear the cries of others and serve them. Just as Jesus did on earth, we are called to serve others in his name.
When we stop to think about this thought today remember Jesus and his sacrifice he made for us. Today think about those who serve you in life and those you serve. Thank the Lord for what he has done in your life.
By Jennie Mayes
Psalm 70 is an almost exact replica to Psalm 40: 13-17 and Psalm 35:4,21,26,& 27 and Biblical scholars say the repetition through the Psalms served as a reminder to David, who often experienced enemies and needed to hear this message again.
Hmmm….Biblical Characters are just like us? David, whom we usually see as one of the greats of the faith, needed reminders and today, we do too. How I wish I could learn quickly from my mistakes and not repeat the same ones over and over. How would my life be different if I could remember that God loves me unconditionally? Without needing to hear it year after year, but knowing it deep inside of me where my scared thoughts and deepest feelings reside? If I could remember God’s grace over me, not earned, but freely given?
In the first 3 verses of this Psalm, David sounds like some of the voices we hear on TV or Social Media discussing the latest political, spiritual, parenting, or lifestyle issue. Or maybe it’s the difficult co-worker, the inflexible relative, or the grouchy neighbor. Instead of wishing our enemies well and loving them as Jesus taught, we want revenge for something as basic as disagreeing with us.
Verses 1-3 in The Message:
God! Please hurry to my rescue!
God, come quickly to my side!
Those who are out to get me—
let them fall all over themselves.
Those who relish my downfall—
send them down a blind alley.
Give them a taste of their own medicine,
those gossips off clucking their tongues.
To these verses, I want to say, “Yes, God! THEY deserve bad things. THEY wronged me; THEY wronged you. I can’t wait to see THEIR downfall.” And it might feel good for a little while. Until it doesn’t. And it always comes to that in the end. Because sometimes (okay a lot of times), it’s me who is gossiping or wanting to see someone else fall off their pedestal. And it’s never the same when you take “THEM” out of it and replace it with “ME”.
At the end of this Psalm:
Verse 5: But I’ve lost it. I’m wasted.
Quick to my side, quick to my rescue!
God, don’t lose a minute.
How often I’ve found myself in desperate situations, usually from dumb decisions I’ve made or lack of trust in God to protect me. But oh how wonderful that we have a God we can cry out to and who will hear us. And always right on time! As we approach Sunday, let us remember the God who shows us unending grace.