Happy Thanksgiving!

Devotions from Methodist Life will return next week.

Psalm 34:1-8

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
    so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
    and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
    happy are those who take refuge in him.

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.

Those Wonderful Sheepdogs

Psalm 16

A psalm of David.

Keep me safe, O God,
    for I have come to you for refuge.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
    Every good thing I have comes from you.”
The godly people in the land
    are my true heroes!
    I take pleasure in them!
Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods.
    I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood
    or even speak the names of their gods.

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
    You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
    What a wonderful inheritance!

I will bless the Lord who guides me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the Lord is always with me.
    I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
    My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever.

By Chuck Griffin

God is our ultimate protector. When we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, we are protected even as we experience death, carried into eternal life by God’s great plan. The final verses of today’s psalm are a prophecy of that plan, revealing how it culminates in the resurrection of Jesus.

A desire for safety in this earthly life and the idea that godly people can be heroes are two other concepts that come together in this psalm. And as I write this devotion knowing it will be published on Veterans Day, I cannot help but think of those who took time out of their lives to serve the United States of America in a military role to protect us.

I give particular thanks for those who take on such difficult roles while clinging to godliness, the pursuit of what God would have them do.

Sometimes you hear certain people described as having “sheepdog” personalities—friendly, gentle and loyal, but a force to be reckoned with when evil threatens. Many such people are naturally drawn to military service. I love the way the sheepdogs fit into the pastoral image of the Great Shepherd, the one responsible for the flock as a whole.

A good sheepdog becomes an extension of the shepherd’s hand, sensitive to the call of the master and following commands without allowing fear to get in the way. What a comfort sheepdogs should be to the flock!

Think of the sheepdogs around you today and offer them words of affection and thanks. Let them know they are loved and welcomed among us. We need their experiences and attitudes in the midst of our churches.

Lord, pour a special blessing out today on those who have chosen to form that thin line protecting us from disaster. 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.

Holy Ones

Psalm 34:9-14 (NRSV)
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
    for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Come, O children, listen to me;
    I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
    and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
    and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
    seek peace, and pursue it.

By John Grimm

Is this psalm written for us?  Are we “his holy ones”?  The answer to these questions depends upon whether we fear the Lord.  This psalm helps us define fear of the Lord.

It appears the state of fearing the Lord has to do with seeking the Lord.  It might be that as we pursue the Lord, we gain a sense of awe regarding how the Lord does what the Lord does.  On this level, we realize the fear of the Lord is what we as individuals can do.

We also notice that the fear of the Lord can be taught.  We can listen to someone who has had experience with the Lord.  The instructions for having the fear of the Lord show us two facts.  First, it is our responsibility to avoid speaking evil and deceit.  The second fact is that fearing the Lord involves physically doing good and pursuing peace.

From the whole of the Bible, we see that we are holy ones because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.  As we believe in Jesus, we become holy.  It is by living in the fear of the Lord that we receive the position of being holy ones.  It appears that this psalm was written for us and that we can be “his holy ones.”  Now, let us seek the Lord and learn from those who know about faith in Jesus Christ.

Almighty God, thank you for making us your holy ones.  We had wanted for so much before we found you.  You satisfy us and instruct us in how to live as your holy ones.  It is good to know that by faith in Jesus we can be holy as you are holy.  May we be found to be your holy ones, even this day.  In the Name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

Blameless Before God

Genesis 17:1-2 (NLT)

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai— ‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Like any human, Abraham was imperfect, but 24 years after God called him out of his father’s land to the land of Canaan, he was challenged to walk blameless before God.  The Hebrew word tamin, translated as blameless, connotes an upright life, a life of integrity that is flawless and perfect before God.

Noah was described as “a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth” (Genesis 6:9). Noah, like Abraham after him, was far from perfect, but the Bible describes him as someone who walked in close fellowship with God. It was this same life of close fellowship that God called Abraham to. Hundreds of years later, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount told his listeners, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48).  This requirement to walk blameless before God has not changed. 

Abraham (then Abram) had character flaws and often displayed a lack of candor when it suited him. He asked his wife to lie so he would not be killed by the Egyptians (Genesis 12:11-13). Abram went to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan, but there is no biblical evidence that he consulted God on this move.

After God had promised him a son of his own (Genesis 15:4), Abram and his wife took it upon themselves to follow cultural norms by having Abram sleep with Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian servant, to have a child. Hagar became pregnant and later gave birth to Ishmael, precipitating a crisis in Abram’s household. The after-effects of this poor choice on the part of Abram continues to this day. Like Abram, some contemporary believers do not see anything wrong in telling lies to gain an advantage or sometimes adopting the ways of the world to achieve their goals. 

When we adopt shortcuts like Abraham and Sarah did to meet a deep desire, we are demonstrating a lack of faith in God’s ability to keep his promises. Just as God challenged Abraham to a new way of life in our focus text, God challenges us to abandon the ways of the world.

Paul writes, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). God’s will for us is the same as it was for Abraham. We are to live a life that is blameless and free of sin. 

The only way to walk before God and be blameless is to study his written word and ask for grace to keep to his precepts. God told Joshua, “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”

Committed to living a blameless life before the Lord, the Psalmist declares, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11).  When Jesus faced temptation in the wilderness, he overcame because he was grounded in the word of the Father.  We must note, however, that the devil also quoted from Scripture, taking the words out of context (Matthew 4:1-11). Like Jesus, we must declare and live the truth of Scripture if we are to walk blameless before God. 

I love the way the hymn writer John Sammis challenges us: “When we walk with the Lord, in the light of his word, what a glory he sheds on our way! While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” 

I have taken it for granted that anyone reading this post desires to walk blameless before the Lord. As we purposely choose to honor God in our lives, we can count on our Lord to deliver on his many promises to us in Scripture.   To be clear, God’s call for us to walk blameless before him has nothing to do with our age.

If Abram was challenged to reconsider his ways at 99 years, God wants anyone reading this to do what is right. Our age does not matter. What matters is living a blameless life before God in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Loving God, you want us to live in close fellowship with you by rejecting what the world often calls acceptable. Grant us power through your ever-present Holy Spirit to walk blameless before you in all our ways. We believe we can do this through Jesus Christ, who alone gives us strength. We pray on the authority of Christ’s name. Amen.

Satisfied

Psalm 145:10-18 (NRSV)
All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
    and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
    and tell of your power,
to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The Lord is faithful in all his words,
    and gracious in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
    and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand,
    satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is just in all his ways,
    and kind in all his doings.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.

By John Grimm

When our dogs are ready to eat, they will let us know they need food.  Even if we arrive home after being gone for a while and the dogs have been in their kennels for many hours, they want their food.  Once we feed our dogs, then they will settle down.  Not only are the dogs satisfied by our presence, but their satisfaction is enhanced by having some food in their bellies!

We have felt that our effort to rescue dogs is how God satisfies the desires of these particular canines.  We also notice God provides food for squirrels, deer, and even birds from our bird feeders!  It is a joy to hear the birds sing praises to God when the Lord satisfies them.  The animals depend upon God and those the Lord has created to care for this world’s inhabitants.

Calling upon the Lord Jesus in truth has been helpful for me.  As people read this devotion and this psalm, perhaps we all can find it is good to call upon the Lord.  We all can be honest with God regarding our failures, our sins and our needs.  The Lord is faithful and gracious.  The Lord is near to all who call upon him.  If we need to be satisfied, maybe it is time for us to call on the Lord.

Jesus, thank you for satisfying the needs of every living thing.  Knowing how the Lord’s kingdom and dominion continues from the first of creation until now, we discover how good you are.  Thank you for using us in caring for creatures both great and small.  Thank you for satisfying us in this lifetime.  Amen.

The One Most Offended

This Sunday’s sermon will be a reflection on deep brokenness and the power of God’s grace, considering what we find in both 2 Samuel 11:1-15 and John 6:1-14. If you want to watch the sermon but cannot attend Holston View United Methodist Church, the message will be available online.

Today’s text: Psalm 51:4

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.


By Chuck Griffin

Psalm 51 shows us the three R’s we should hope to experience after sinning: remorse, repentance and restoration. In its introductory header, we are told the psalm reflects what King David felt and cried out after he came to his senses and realized the terrible stench he had become in the nostrils of God.

The fourth verse is particularly enlightening to me. It reminds me that the effects of sin go far beyond human perception. For us, the problem of sin ultimately lies in what God experiences when his creation, made in love, turns against the maker.

When we think of sin, it’s not unusual to consider its effects in human terms, thinking of the people damaged by sin. Certainly, in the 2 Samuel stories tied to this psalm, we’re quick to consider how Uriah lost his wife and his life because of David’s lust and murderous efforts to conceal his shame. It’s also possible to argue that Bathsheba was a victim of power rape.

The losses they experienced certainly should be remembered. When Jesus summarized the law, he placed love of neighbor right up there with love of God for a reason—created as images of God, people matter.

Psalm 51:4 calls us to remember the source of holiness, however. God defines what is holy simply by existing, and as the only all-powerful, uncreated, eternal being, God has the right to immediately destroy that which he finds obnoxious.

How remarkable that we continue to exist! We should be astonished that remorse, repentance and restoration are available to us.

Yes, God truly is love—love is the only divine emotion that could hold the holy hand in abeyance.

Lord, we thank you for your patient love, expressed so clearly when Jesus Christ went to the cross to expunge our sins. Continue to grow us in grace so that sin comes to an end and we live fully in your eternal presence. Amen.

New Wine and Old Wineskins

We welcome the Rev. ‘Debo Onabanjo, an ordained elder in the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, as a contributing author to Methodist Life’s “Life Talk” column.

Matthew 9:16-17 (NLT)

“Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.”


By ‘Debo Onabanjo

Jesus said these words to the disciples of John the Baptist when they asked why Jesus’ disciples did not fast like they and the Pharisees did.  Even though there was little connecting the teachings of John the Baptist, who came to prepare the Jews for the arrival of the Messiah, and the teachings of the Pharisees, the two groups did share an emphasis on the spiritual discipline of fasting.

Jesus wanted them to understand that his disciples did not have to go through the rituals or spiritual practices like fasting simply to be acceptable to the religious elites.  To be clear, Jesus was not opposed to fasting.  He simply was saying the time had not yet come when his disciples would fast.

Jesus was not sent by God to patch up the old religious system but to institute a new approach to worshiping God in spirit and in truth. If we are not careful, it is easy for us to miss the profound revelation found here.

As United Methodists prepare for change, it is important not to approach the next Methodism in the same way and manner. This has nothing to do with theological differences. What comes next must be treated as new wine that can be accommodated and preserved only in new wineskins. 

For those who have been part of the church for so long, change is usually the most difficult thing to embrace.  Even though the disruption to church as we knew it by the Covid-19 pandemic has no doubt been devastating, there are those who are quite eager to go back to their “old normal.” These folks represent the old wineskins that Jesus talked about. If there is anything that church experts are telling us, it is that the church and indeed our world has been altered, and having the mindset of “business as usual” will not be helpful. 

To embody the new wine by becoming grace-filled disciples of Jesus, we first need to unlearn old habits. Then we can understand and fully assimilate the new teaching that will help us develop new, healthier habits and rhythms of discipleship.

Paul sums it up for us this way: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17.)  Are you ready to become new wine prepared for a new wineskin? Is your old life truly gone and is the new life you are living now being lived in Jesus and not dependent on your old experience and knowledge?  

It is a good thing to examine ourselves and tell ourselves the truth.  And as we know this truth that is embodied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are set free from old “stinking thinking” and released into the new life for which God designed us.  I believe we can join David in asking the Holy Spirit to create in us all a new heart as we become malleable clay in the hands of the potter

Lord, we want to be rid of our old wineskins of malice, prejudice and idolatry and put on the new wineskins of love, mercy, compassion and justice. We know that even in this challenging season, you are doing new things.  Open our spiritual eyes so that we may perceive where you are acting, both in our lives and that of others.  We humbly offer ourselves to you in the precious name of Jesus our Savior and Lord. Amen.