Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19 – A Testimony of Deliverance

psalm 116.1-2 pic

I love the Lord because he hears
my requests for mercy.
I’ll call out to him as long as I live,
because he listens closely to me….

What can I give back to the Lord
for all the good things he has done for me?
I’ll lift up the cup of salvation.
I’ll call on the Lord’s name.
I’ll keep the promises I made to the Lord
in the presence of all God’s people.
The death of the Lord’s faithful
is a costly loss in his eyes.

Oh yes, Lord, I am definitely your servant!
I am your servant and the son of your female servant—
you’ve freed me from my chains.
So I’ll offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to you,
and I’ll call on the Lord’s name.
I’ll keep the promises I made to the Lord
in the presence of all God’s people,
     in the courtyards of the Lord’s house,
which is in the center of Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord! (CEB)

As the Church’s Prayer Book, the Psalms were originally crafted for public as well as personal use. The Psalter is meant to be prayed, sung, and spoken out loud. The Psalms address the human condition and encompass the full range of human emotion. There are times when we are so distressed that we are unable to form words – and the psalms help us say what is in our heart. There are also times when we are so elated that we have no words to express our joy. The psalms assist us with this, as well. Today’s psalm is such a response.

The psalmist is beside himself with appreciation and praise because of answered prayer. Although the he does not provide what that answer was, this psalm is a staple for the Jewish people at Passover to specifically thank the Lord for the deliverance from Egyptian slavery. The event appears less important than the reality that God listens.

The Lord hears the cry of the oppressed and bends his ear to catch our prayers.

Because of such mercy, the psalmist pledges fealty to the Lord and commits to following through with promises to God. “I love the Lord,” is the cry of his thankful heart. The psalmist gave public testimony that prayer does indeed change things. At times when our own prayers seem to just bounce off the ceiling, it is good to hear from another that the Lord still answers prayer – that life can be different than its present confusion.

When my dear wife had a spine surgery six years ago and awoke from it unable to move her legs, I prayed. I asked for mercy. I pleaded for grace. And I did it for hours at the foot of her hospital bed. I remember that I stubbornly would not accept the fact that she could not move her lower body.  And I decided to stand there and pray until I got an answer from God.

Eventually, I prayed myself asleep. My wife woke me up sometime in the early morning the next day. She told me to pull back the covers and look at her right big toe…. She could give it an ever-small twitch. We called the nurse, who was so excited that she called everyone she could get a hold of. With a dozen hospital staff huddled around the hospital bed, my wife proceeded to give that big toe a hearty move. The staff erupted with clapping, and I am not kidding when I say that we had a party with noise and shouts in a hospital room at 4am. Nobody cared we were going nuts. I certainly did not.

Yes, God is still in the business of answering prayer.

Through the hard times, the good times, and the confusing times, the Lord is our constant ballast for all seasons of life, whether good or bad. And I love God for that abiding presence. I can also give testimony that through all of the adverse situations my wife and I have faced, we have learned to stop, be still, and find that all we ever wanted we already have, even when everything changes.

Perhaps you are reading this today and feel some desperation, maybe some wondering, if God pays any attention to your plight. Yes, the Lord does. You are not alone. We all have times of needing freedom from whatever chains are keeping us in bondage. So, I offer this prayer for you….

O God, who in Jesus Christ called us out of the darkness and into your marvelous light; enable us always to declare your wonderful deeds, offer thanksgiving for your steadfast love, and eternally praise you with heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Eternal God, for the sake of Jesus, send your Holy Spirit to the person(s) praying along with me now who need healing of body and soul, or who seek deliverance from a difficult and debilitating situation. Be gracious to drive away all that is unjust and crippling and mercifully make whole that which is broken. Grant deliverance from the power of evil and provide true faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, who suffered on our behalf and rose from death so that we too can live with joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.

Merciful God, you are the source of all healing and wholeness. We give thanks to you for your love. As we wait in expectation for the coming of the day when Jesus shall return, when suffering and pain shall be no more, please reassure us by your Spirit of your mighty power and help us to trust in your great love.

May your unending compassion be poured out to these your people who long for your hope to explode within them – to the glory of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit live and reign together, one God, now and forever. Amen.

John 3:31-36 – Considering Christ

Jesus 6th century mosaic
A 6th-Century Byzantine mosaic of Jesus

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.  For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (ESV)

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he left instructions to his disciples to pray and to witness (Acts 1:1-11). Jesus only asks of us what he himself does or has already done. The life and ministry of Christ on this earth was marked continually with prayer and bearing witness. Just as Jesus Christ bore witness to what he saw and heard as the Divine Word, so his followers are to do likewise. The evidence and the veracity of Christ’s witness is the giving of God’s Spirit – the One whom confirms this testimony to us.

I, personally, have found Jesus to be precisely whom he claims to be. I have come to accept his testimony as gracious, truthful, and life-giving. I have wholeheartedly embraced the New Testament Gospel accounts of his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. This belief came neither quickly nor easily for me – it resulted from an honest straightforward reading of the Bible; and, the wooing of the Holy Spirit.

It really isn’t my job to convince you of Jesus Christ’s authenticity and trustworthiness. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it is my task to bear witness of the things I have seen and heard concerning Jesus. My life has been thoroughly turned upside-down because of Jesus. With Jesus, I have been invited into the life of God. By the wounds of Jesus, I have experienced healing of damaged emotions and recovery from spiritual hurts inflicted by others. Through union with Christ, I have grace and forgiveness of things I have done and left undone. With Jesus as my Friend, I enjoy loving attention and am never dismissed by him.

For those who have not read the Gospel accounts and refuse Christ, then, for honesty’s sake, please have the integrity to give Jesus a hearing before you dismiss him with a slight of hand. It is one thing to genuinely not know much about Jesus, and it is quite another thing to ignore him when you have knowledge about how to find out about him.

For those of us who have read the New Testament Gospels and accept the testimony of Jesus, we come back again and again to his life-giving words and seek continually to follow him in his way of mercy, purity, and peace. We bear witness to how Jesus has changed our lives and offers a life worth living.

Everyone with faith in Jesus has a life-giving connection with God.  Those who don’t, don’t. If you disagree with this, then contend with Jesus himself. Give him a hearing. Watch him in action.  Observe how he deals with people. See if he lives up to his words. Then, bear witness to what you have seen and heard.

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, I pray to you, the God and Father of all:

For empowerment by the Spirit, that I may be a faithful witness

For those who wait on You, that they may find renewal

For all people, that they may acknowledge the kingdom of the ascended Christ

For all who are struggling with broken relationships

I commend myself and all for whom I pray, to Your mercy and protection through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.

Psalm 66:8-20 – Celebrate

Red Wing Blackbird

Let the whole world bless our God
and loudly sing his praises.

Our lives are in his hands,
and he keeps our feet from stumbling.
You have tested us, O God;
you have purified us like silver.
You captured us in your net
and laid the burden of slavery on our backs.
Then you put a leader over us.
We went through fire and flood,
but you brought us to a place of great abundance.

Now I come to your Temple with burnt offerings
to fulfill the vows I made to you—
yes, the sacred vows that I made
when I was in deep trouble.
That is why I am sacrificing burnt offerings to you—
the best of my rams as a pleasing aroma,
and a sacrifice of bulls and male goats.

Come and listen, all you who fear God,
and I will tell you what he did for me.
For I cried out to him for help,
praising him as I spoke.
If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But God did listen!
He paid attention to my prayer.
Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer
or withdraw his unfailing love from me. (NLT)

Those of us who utilize the Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings are familiar with having a psalm each day. In addition, the same psalm is repeated three consecutive days, following the pattern of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday readings preparing for Sunday – and Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday readings reflecting on Sunday. The Psalter has a prominent place in the readings because it is viewed as the Church’s Prayer Book.

Within the book of Psalms, we have the full range of human experience and emotion. Much like athletes in weight training putting in their reps (repetitions) so the Christian is to use the weighty Psalms with repeated use for spiritual growth and development. Prayer and praise along with lamentation and celebration are necessary equipment for the strengthening of faith and a healthy Christian life.

Today’s psalm is a song of thanksgiving for the community of worshipers approaching the temple and offering their sacrifices to God. Together as the people of God they proclaim what God has done for them. Through hardship and difficulty, they have realized abundance and joy. Personal witness and testimony are given to the congregation for answered prayer so that all may rejoice together in God’s steadfast and unfailing love.

Expressing celebration is important. Without it, our spirits are famished and find it difficult to be patient and persevere. With celebration, our spiritual muscles flex with joy and are in shape for the trials and tribulations which lie ahead. Corporate affirmation and personal appreciation are meant to work together in a grand profession of faith in God’s good guidance and help.

“Come and listen and I will tell you what God did for me,” benefits both the individual and the group. If all we ever hear and experience is hardship, our faith muscle will be overused and give out. We need stories to celebrate. We have got to hear testimonies of God’s enduring love.

So, what has God done for you? What celebrations do we have today? Are you willing to share your story? Both the smallest and biggest of celebrations are appropriate, along with everything in between.

While writing this at my desk, a majestic male red-wing blackbird perched himself on the bush in front of the window. Being only a few feet from him, I could see his feathers in detail and his glorious preening for the benefit of the females. On a grander scale, I participated today in celebrating the discharge of a COVID-19 patient from the hospital. With the long hallway lined on both sides with hospital staff, the patient left to a thunderous applause of front-line workers needing to express good news as much as the patient needed to receive it. “Let the whole world bless our God and loudly sing his praises.”

May the Lord grant you the answers you seek. May you express those answers with thanksgiving and celebration to others.

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ has overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant that, as by your grace going before us you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect; through Jesus Christ our risen Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Acts 22

            You have a story to tell.  We all do.  Your story is as special, powerful, and unique as anybody’s.  Every person’s story is interesting, compelling, and needs to be told.
            In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Paul, considered the greatest follower of Christ of all time, tells his story.  Paul was a Jew, an upwardly mobile mover-and-shaker within his world.  He despised Christians and saw them as an aberration to the true worship of God.
            But Paul had a life-changing encounter with Jesus.  He was not expecting it.  It slammed him upside the head like a divine baseball bat.  Whereas Paul really believed he was serving God by persecuting Christians, now he came face-to-face with the true reality that he was doing just the opposite – persecuting God!
            As a result, Paul did a complete turn-around to a new life.  He became a faithful Christian, and took the good news of forgiveness of Christ to the known world.  And Paul knew something of forgiveness.  Paul never got over the grace shown to him.
            This chapter of Holy Scripture is a good template for you to tell your own story.  As you read Paul’s story, notice that he talked of life before being a Christian; the circumstances that happened for him to believe in Jesus Christ; and, talks about what his life after becoming a Christian was all about.
            A good, profitable, and healthy practice for you to do is to sit down and jot some thoughts down about your life before Christ, how you came to Christ, and what your life after becoming a Christian is like.  Let your life-changing Christian event shape the story – whether it was like Paul’s, or a baptism, a church service experience, a family crisis, or whatever it was – the act of writing will help you make sense of your unique and special narrative.

 

            Just as important, tell your story to others.  There are people in your sphere of influence that need to hear what God has done in your life.  They are in your life by God’s gracious design.  You need to do this for their sake, and for your own.  You have a story to tell.  Let it out, my friend.