Preparing for Joy

Psalm 126. A Song of Ascents.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
    reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    carrying their sheaves.

By John Grimm

Grief takes time to work through.

Tears will arrive when they are least expected.

Misfortune can zap our dreams.

Yet the Lord has his means of restoring us.  If we have not given up, if we have not succumbed to the weeping, and if we have not been swallowed up in tragedy, then we can know how the Lord can restore us.  Some of us are cynical.  Some of us have cut ourselves off from any good because we have experienced much tragedy in our lives.  Some of us have stopped dreaming.

It is good to dream.  How can we have our fortunes restored?  How will God give us joy for which we can shout? Throughout the generations, people have paid attention to the Lord. When people pay attention to the Lord, then we see God restoring us.  That brings us joy!

We need not only have joy during Advent and Christmas.  There are more weeks to the year than the weeks of Advent.  Joy can be our shout every week of the year!  For we can notice the great things God has done for us, even if times are bad. 

Lord, we know people who have stopped dreaming.  We know that you can restore joy to each person and each nation.  May we know joy in our lives as we see you restoring us and our fortunes that are found in you alone.  Fill our lungs so we may give shouts of joy, even today!  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

A Dwelling Place for Life

Psalm 90

By John Grimm

We see much of God in this psalm.  He is our dwelling place; is everlasting; can have anger; has wrath; has compassion; has steadfast love. He has glorious power and has favor.  We see how we start with him, then we aggravate him, and then we plead for his blessing upon us.  What an ebb and flow we go through!

We find ourselves away from God in this life because of our sin and iniquity.  We find ourselves near God in this life because of his compassion.  Maybe in our lives, we will stay closer to the Lord our God.  It is better to know the favor of the Lord our God than it is to know his wrath.

One line of thought through this psalm is trouble.  We have toil and trouble, and we have seen evil.  Yes, living our lives brings more than enough concern about toil, trouble and evil.  When we are not the cause of toil, trouble and evil, staying close to the Lord can be easier for us to do.  However, when we are the cause of our own toil, trouble and evil, we realize we are the ones who have separated ourselves from God.  It sure would be nice to live our 70 or 80 years close to God.  This choice is ours.  As the Lord turns to us, then we learn to turn to God. 

This Advent of 2021 sounds like a suitable time to turn to the Lord.  Will we accept the favor of God, or we will continue to feel his wrath?  It looks like that if the Lord is our dwelling place, toil, trouble and evil do not keep us from knowing the favor of the Lord our God.

God, we have turned from you.  Your wrath is justified against us.  We need you to get through this life.  As we live in you, let us know your steadfast love.  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

Thanksgiving

Psalm 63:5-9 (NRSV)

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
    and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

By John Grimm

We are ready!  We have our minds set on turkey and fixings.  We are looking forward to the pie—whether it be pumpkin, pecan, apple, or mincemeat!  We are glad it is time to feast. 

Why are we ready to feast?  God has been providing for us!  We are satisfied by God in our waking—whatever time we are awake.  For when we awaken in the middle of the night and can not get back to sleep, it is prime time to concentrate on the Lord.  This time is when we have a rich feast, and our mouths are full of praise.

I believe the hymn title is: “Count Your Blessings.”  God shelters us, and that’s a blessing we can count multiple times!  We cling to God by noticing how much the Lord does for us.  There is nothing like knowing God’s right hand upholds us!

Lord God, thank you satisfying our souls.  Lying in bed, thinking of you and your work in our lives brings joy to us.  As we know you, may our friends and family notice our contentment in you.  May we have more reasons to be thankful as friends and family find satisfaction in you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray for joy for our friends and family this Thanksgiving.  Amen.

Of Cheeks and Teeth

Psalm 3 
A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.

O Lord, how many are my foes!
    Many are rising against me;
many are saying to me,
    “There is no help for you in God.”                      Selah

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me,
    my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.
I cry aloud to the Lord,
    and he answers me from his holy hill.                Selah

I lie down and sleep;
    I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.
I am not afraid of ten thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Rise up, O Lord!
    Deliver me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord;
    may your blessing be on your people!             Selah

By John Grimm

David’s problem was of his own making.  The fallout from David taking Uriah’s wife as his own was evidenced in David’s own family being torn apart.  Absalom wanting his father’s throne was part of the reason David was fleeing from Absalom.  Now, David must find a way through this situation.

Yes, David had confessed his sin regarding the murder of Uriah and the rape of Uriah’s wife.  Yet, we read David’s foes tell him: “There is no help for you in God.”  David has known otherwise for his whole life.  Whether David’s foe was Saul, Absalom, or others, God delivered David.  This deliverance by God is what David is waiting for now.

How do we know he is waiting for God to act?  Selah.  This term is known as a signal for rest in Jewish poetry.  Notice where David rests.  He rests after hearing the foes speak of the lack of deliverance.  David rests when he cries to the Lord.  He rests in full assurance that God will bring deliverance to him and blessings upon God’s people.

When do we rest?  Do we follow the same pattern?  Or do we wait until we have struck our enemies on the cheek and broken the teeth of the wicked, in our own strength?  Maybe we are afraid that the Lord will not act.  Do we not remember that God has acted for our benefit, previously in our lives?  When it comes to our foes, God can and does provide deliverance for us.  Can we rest while we wait for the Lord to do so?

God, yes, we need a Selah or two in our lives.  You will deliver us from our foes.  We have known you to do so in the past and we trust you to do so now.  We know that you have forgiven us, delivered us from our sins.  We can trust you to deliver us from the sins of our foes.  In the name of Jesus Christ, bless your people through all the means that you find necessary.  Amen.

Praise

Psalm 113       (NRSV)

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
    praise the name of the Lord.

Blessed be the name of the Lord
    from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is high above all nations,
    and his glory above the heavens.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    who is seated on high,
who looks far down
    on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust,
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
    making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!

By John Grimm

We can praise the Lord.  This psalm from the Hebrew people is not only for the Jews.  It is for all people!  Learning to have joy in our lives, as Paul instructs, comes from praising the Lord.  Thankfully, the first Church Council in Jerusalem, as described in Acts, has extraordinarily little limiting Gentiles who place faith in Jesus Christ.  Thankfully, as we read this psalm, we can see no infringement upon the Jewish law, ceremonial or otherwise. 

It is knowing the Lord is our God that gives us the ability and the insight to praise him.  No one else is seated on high, for this life is not about who is the king of the mountain.  The Lord our God not only looks down from heaven, but he is also involved in life on earth by removing the poor and needy from squalor.  Do we remember the times we were poor, and the Lord raised us up?  Do we remember the times we were needy, and God removed us from the ash heap?  These are reasons we praise God.

Maybe we do not have those memories.  Maybe we are the princes of God’s people.  Knowing and seeing the Lord lift others from squalor gives us reason to praise.  Thanking God for the changed welfare of another person is appropriate.  It is then that we see God has expanded our lives to include those who are not like us.

There are barren women, and barren couples, today.  Knowing the Lord can and does place children in the lives of barren people is a praise.  Even though someone is barren does not mean others bar them from participating in life.  It is a joy for barren women, and couples, to lovingly teach and encourage children to know the Lord.  Again, this opportunity is reason to praise the Lord.

Yes, we can praise the Lord.  He is our God.  Who knows, maybe someone who hears us giving praise to the Lord will make the Lord their God!

We praise God, for you have worked in our lives.  You can see from heaven and can assist us here on earth.  Thank you for lifting us from squalor.  Thank you for allowing even the princes of the earth to see your work on earth.  It is through the name of Jesus Christ that we know you as our God.  Amen.

A Reason To Be Angry

Job 32:1-5

So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became angry. He was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, though they had declared Job to be in the wrong. Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job, because they were older than he. But when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouths of these three men, he became angry.


By John Grimm

We can get angry for the most inconsequential items.  We get cut-off in traffic–we have road rage.  Our favorite team is done wrong by the referees–we abuse our children and wives.  We are slighted at work for a promotion–we massacre our co-workers.  Obviously, each of these situations can be handled in healthier ways.

Elihu had been silent, waiting to speak about Job’s situation.  He had every right to be angry.  Even though Job was distraught, it would have been possible for Job to justify God.  Having friends declare Job to be in the wrong is also a reason to be angry.  Job’s friends did not know the situation from the reader’s perspective, or from God’s perspective.  Thankfully, Elihu did not rush to judgment against Job or his friends.  The patience of Elihu helped Elihu present his case.

Maybe the Book of Job is about a young man’s patience.  Maybe the Book of Job is about the rush to judgment of older people.  Maybe, Job could have handled his grief if his friends had been patient like Elihu.  It does give us pause to consider our patience when other people are going through grief.  It does help us question how we treat our friends who going through unexplainable situations.

God, when we do not know the situation as you do, may we be like Elihu.  Would you help us keep our tongues in check when we are ready to say what does not need said?  Through your grace, we are looking forward to when we can become angry for those situations in which we need to become angry.  May your Holy Spirit show us the times to become angry and when to remain silent, and may the former be less than the latter!  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

Whoredom and Whole Hearts

Jeremiah 3:6-14 (NRSV)

The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there? And I thought, “After she has done all this she will return to me”; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretense, says the Lord.


By John Grimm

The Bible does get our attention.  The title for this devotion comes from this passage.  Yet, as we read the title over and over, we are offended.  We have not acted like Israel or Judah.  We say we have not used stone and tree to make idols to worship other gods. 

Judah (the Southern Kingdom, which included Jerusalem) saw the faithless ways of Israel (the Northern Kingdom).  Israel was carried away by the Assyrians in 726 B.C.  Around 586 B.C., Judah was going to be carried away by the Babylonians.  Why was Judah going to be carried away, deported from the land of Judah?  Because it was only in pretense, in name only, that Judah returned to the Lord.

God has been calling repeatedly to America since Sept. 11, 2001.  We can return to the Lord.  Returning to the Lord cannot be done only with words, in name only.  Our faithfulness to God must overwhelm our lives so our actions show we love God with our whole hearts.  Our faithfulness to God can be seen in how we love our neighbors as ourselves.

Judging from all the evidence in America today, we have not returned to the Lord God with our whole hearts.  We may still be in our whoredom.

Holy Spirit, thank you for being patient with America.  Your patience allows us to return with our whole hearts to the Lord.  We hear about Jesus Christ and believe he is a good teacher.  Yet, when we believe Jesus is the Son of God come in the flesh, we find the beginning of salvation.  Work in us so that we see and live in the faithfulness of God, the salvation God offers us. We ask that our faithfulness to God be demonstrated by our whole hearts.  May the name of Jesus Christ be found in us before it is too late.  Amen.

To Console and Comfort

Job 2:11-13 (NRSV)

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.


By John Grimm

In the United States of America, when a loved one dies, we typically receive three days of bereavement time from our employers.  When a friend dies, we will make time to pay our respects to the family.  Either way, we will gather at the grieving person’s house.  We will reminiscence about the good times with the deceased loved one.  We somehow make it through those days, being able to console and comfort the grieving family.

Job’s friends came to console and comfort him.  They wept loudly; they threw dust on themselves; they tore their clothes.  Then for seven days and nights, they only sat with him.  This last mode of consoling and comforting a grieving person seems appropriate for today.  Sitting with the grieving family without saying a word is wise.

It is when we begin to accuse and blame that we have lost the practice of consoling and comforting.  The grieving person will express a range of emotions, from deep anger to praise.  They will have regrets and sweet memories.  As for Job, he could express himself, and did express himself, despite his friends’ words of accusation.

How wise would we be if we only sat with the grieving people?  How wise would we become if we refrain from accusations when we see family and friends grieving?

God of wisdom, thank you for your consolation and comfort during our grief.  Thank you for helping us to learn to grieve with those who are grieving.  Forgive us for speaking out of turn when we could be silent when we sit with those who are grieving.  May we have hearts and ears to hear the pain of grief. May we have the patience to see those who are grieving through the time of intense grief.  In the name of Jesus, we ask for wisdom when it comes time to console and comfort.  Amen.

Continuing

John 8:31-38 (NRSV)

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So, if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word.  I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”


By John Grimm

As of right this moment, as we are reading this devotion, we are continuing in Jesus’ word.  It takes our time to read the Bible.  It takes our effort to study the words so we can know how free we are in Jesus. 

Over the span of our lifetime, as we continue in Jesus’ word, we can live lives free from sin.

Continuing in Jesus’ word is not only a reference to making time to study the Bible.  Verse 38 points to the fact that our doing what we have heard from the Father is included in the method of continuing in Jesus’ word.  When we know Jesus’ word, we are free from sin and free to obey the Father. This obedience to the Father means we can live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus’ word.  Through Jesus, you have given us freedom from sin.  Show us in Jesus’ word how we can do what we have heard from you.  Guide our steps as Jesus’ disciples so we can know and live the truth that sets us free.  In the name of Jesus, we can be obedient to you.  Amen.

For My Welfare?

Isaiah 38:10-20

By John Grimm

For my welfare?  We think we know what is best for ourselves.  We plan, we maneuver, and we make connections so that we can have the best life possible.  Then troubles come our way and we are at a loss.  Getting through the troubles strains us.

We then ask ourselves, is the trouble because of my own sins?  Are we the ones who caused our own souls to be bitter?  Or is the truth that someone else caused our misfortune and our problems?  Is it not that since we live godly lives, we can escape such bitterness?

When we know that we have caused our own bitterness, then we repent of our ways.  We confess our sin to God and he restores us.  We may even eventually see that God had been protecting us, despite our willful rebellion against him.  As soon as we recognize the good God was keeping us for, we thank him that he did not allow us to be punished for all time because of our rebellion. 

When we do not know the source of the bitterness in our life, we should keep turning to God.  It is through Jesus that we find salvation, even in the midst of bitterness.  It is during these times that we catch a glimpse of how much evil that God has kept from us.  Yes, going through the bitterness was for our welfare!

It is by living through bitterness brought on by our own sin or someone else’s sin that we can praise God!  Then we get to be in the sanctuary with other believers to sing and praise God for his work in our lives.  What a witness we have when those around us know of the bitterness of our souls and they get to hear us praise God.  Maybe it is during this pandemic that the bitterness of our souls is for our welfare.  It seems like a good time to praise God for getting us through these days.  What better way to shrug off bitterness than to be in the house of the Lord, thanking God for our deliverance?

God, we know who and what has caused bitterness in our souls.  It was not you.  We allowed that bitterness to grow.  Yet, you are using the state of our souls so that we may see how you are working to deliver us.  As we become content in your faithfulness, may we see the bitterness washing away and hear chords of praise coming from our lungs.  It is in Jesus’ name that we thank you for making a way for our welfare even when we could not grasp what was happening.  Amen.  And Amen!