Muzzled

Psalm 39 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

I do not like to be silent.  It is my vocation that allows me to speak.  However, there are times to be silent.  As a Christian, there are times that my mouth can get me into trouble.  It is when I speak my piece that life falls to pieces!

Yes, I have been known to create problems for myself, and others, when I open my mouth.  It occurs to me that God may not want or need me to use the breath he has given me for all the purposes that I intend to voice.  Knowing the difference is necessary.   

My days will only be so long.  They are but a breath compared to the days of the Lord.  Then it is up to me to be silent.  I cannot speak and deliver myself from the trouble I have caused.  People would say, when you are done digging the hole you are in, put the shovel down!  If my hope is in God, then I can use my breath to state my hope is in God (v. 7). 

When God corrects me, I accept his chastisement.  God only corrects me so that I may be better, even holy as he is holy.  It is when I am going through the chastisement that I speak much.  My story about God chastising me need not be told to everyone while God is chastising me!  Only after God’s chastisement do I need to speak by giving praise to God.

It is a wise idea to speak more with God than with others, especially while God is chastising me.  Then I can speak to God how I have broken the peace between myself and others.  Others will know that I muzzled myself for my own good.  The speaking that is appropriate is praise of God.  It would be wise for me to know this truth. 

God, my relationship with you is important.  When I speak with others about my travails and my situation with the wicked, I realize I need to muzzle myself!  It is you who are capable and willing to get me through my travails and my being with the wicked.  I can trust you all my days.  Thank you for chastising me when I have needed such.  Thank you that I can speak your praises.  May I know the times I can take off the muzzle and let others know of how good you have been to me in my short life.  In the name of Jesus, I pray for such wisdom.  Amen.

An Honest Searching

Psalm 39
For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of David.
I said to myself, “I will watch what I do
    and not sin in what I say.
I will hold my tongue
    when the ungodly are around me.”
But as I stood there in silence—
    not even speaking of good things—
    the turmoil within me grew worse.
The more I thought about it,
    the hotter I got,
    igniting a fire of words:
“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.”        Interlude

We are merely moving shadows,
    and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
    not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
    My only hope is in you.
Rescue me from my rebellion.
    Do not let fools mock me.
I am silent before you; I won’t say a word,
    for my punishment is from you.
But please stop striking me!
    I am exhausted by the blows from your hand.
When you discipline us for our sins,
    you consume like a moth what is precious to us.
    Each of us is but a breath.        Interlude

Hear my prayer, O Lord!
    Listen to my cries for help!
    Don’t ignore my tears.
For I am your guest—
    a traveler passing through,
    as my ancestors were before me.
Leave me alone so I can smile again
    before I am gone and exist no more.

By Chuck Griffin

This season of Lent is, again, a time for spiritual searching. Today’s psalm is a powerful example of how that search can whip one to and fro, triggering a range of emotions including stoicism, anger, despair and humility.

If you just skimmed over the psalm, please, slow down, or wait until you have time to slow down, and read it carefully. When you reach the words translated as “Interlude,” take time to breathe and to ponder what has been said thus far.

We also could say that the psalmist moves from an effort at self-control to something more valuable—willing surrender to God, to God’s majesty and undeniable power.

And remember, God does not ignore our tears. In fact, he refuses to ignore us, even if we plead with him to do so. Christ came not to ignore us, but to rescue us. There is no reason to fear that we will be gone, that we will exist no more.

Lord, this is a somber time in the Christian year, but we also feel ourselves being pulled toward hope. In our humility and despair, help us to anticipate the freedom to come. Amen.

A Sermon: “Headed Home”

Here’s a Monday Extra for Methodist Life readers. As some of you are aware, this blog began as part of outreach efforts by the Holston Wesleyan Covenant Association. The link below will take you to the manuscript of a sermon I preached last Saturday during worship, before our Holston chapter’s annual business meeting.

Headed Home”

Starting Point

By Chuck Griffin

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our season of Lent. If you attended a traditional Ash Wednesday service, you may have had the opportunity to recite Psalm 51, which is clearly a psalm of repentance.

Whatever you might be planning to do during Lent to draw closer to God, repentance is the place to begin. Through repentance, we open ourselves to God. Through repentance, we relieve ourselves of all sorts of burdens.

So, here is our prayer for today:

Psalm 51 (ESV)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

A Grouchy Psalm

Psalm 120 (NLT)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I took my troubles to the Lord;
    I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer.
Rescue me, O Lord, from liars
    and from all deceitful people.
O deceptive tongue, what will God do to you?
    How will he increase your punishment?
You will be pierced with sharp arrows
    and burned with glowing coals.

How I suffer in far-off Meshech.
    It pains me to live in distant Kedar.
I am tired of living
    among people who hate peace.
I search for peace;
    but when I speak of peace, they want war!

By Chuck Griffin

Spend some time reading and praying the psalms, and you will soon notice that there seems to be at least one for every situation.

Psalm 120 is a good example. This psalm oozes with grouchiness, a vocal complaint from someone who has grown tired of the deceit around him. Traditionally, this psalm is attributed to David, written when he was under attack by fellow Israelites and forced to live among foreigners.

The psalmist craves a life among peaceful people, people who say what they mean and mean what they say, with no calculated corruption of what God has revealed to be holy and right. When he declares these deceptive tongues will be pierced by sharp arrows and burned by hot coals, his desire for revenge becomes clear.

We’ve all been there, some of us pretty recently. Tolerance is a powerful, Christ-like virtue. But it doesn’t take long for mere humans to become angry when we realize the people we have long tolerated are themselves intolerant, actively working to obfuscate God’s revealed truth.

When we’re feeling such anger, there is nothing wrong with praying this psalm out loud. Just keep that prayer in perspective. The psalmist doesn’t speak of arrows he will launch and burning coals he will impose on these people. Instead, he uses them as symbols of the punishment that God will deliver.

We take comfort in the great promise that the righteous will be rewarded, while the deceitful and manipulative will reap what they have sown.

Our main task in troubled times is to stay right with God. Just keep taking it all to the Lord.

Dear Lord, give us Christ-like demeanors in times of strife, and continue to offer us your grace when we are burdened with anger. Amen.

Finding Our Watchposts

Note: I’m going to try something a little different for at least a few months. Normally, I’ve developed devotions based on daily readings found in the lectionary, but I thought it would be enlightening (at least for me) to focus on Scripture I’ve tended to neglect. I’ve been writing for this blog for nearly two years, and by my count, there are 13 books of the Bible I have never even referenced, much less explored. Let’s begin by looking at a portion of Habakkuk.

Habakkuk 2:1
I will take my stand at my watchpost
    and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
    and what I will answer concerning my complaint.

By Chuck Griffin

The precise details about when Habakkuk made his prophetic statements, or who he was, are unclear. We can tell, however, that he lived in a woeful time. The people who were certain they were God’s Chosen were experiencing ongoing conquest and oppression, causing them great confusion.

Habakkuk opens with an expression of that confusion, and in the process the prophet points out a core problem we wrestle with today: How can a holy and loving God allow sin and violence to take hold so deeply that justice is perverted?

Habakkuk finds God’s initial answer unsatisfying. Essentially, God says he has raised up these invaders, clearly describing their efficiency in war and their ability to plunder at will.

While acknowledging God uses these brutal people to bring judgment and reproof on the disobedient, Habakkuk also wonders how God can tolerate ongoing evil, saying in verse 1:13, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”

It’s a question many all around the world ask today. Yes, we are imperfect, but must we continually suffer at the hands of people who are clearly evil?

Rather than moving on to the rest of Habakkuk, I want to stop where we hear today’s focus verse, which begins the second chapter. The prophet makes a declaration that some might find impudent: I will stand like a sentry, eyes forward, expecting more of an answer from the Lord.

I respect the prophet’s dutiful stance, and I have no doubt God wants to meet us and answer us in these moments. As evidence, I would note that the Holy Spirit-inspired Bible offers us several psalms that, when recited, allow us to loudly lodge a complaint. For example, Jesus quoted a portion of Psalm 22 from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We will spend more time in Habakkuk this week, hearing more of God’s response, and what Habakkuk says from there. For now, let’s consider this: Where are we confused? Do we have the courage to climb dutifully onto our watchtower, that place of prayer that will be different for each of us?

From there, can we admit our inner turmoil to God, listening for his reply, regardless of what it might be?

Lord, make us brave enough to hear what you say so that your words change us, shaping us into the holy beings you would have us be. Amen.

The Heart of Justice

Psalm 72:1-5 (NLT)
A psalm of Solomon.
Give your love of justice to the king, O God,
    and righteousness to the king’s son.
Help him judge your people in the right way;
    let the poor always be treated fairly.
May the mountains yield prosperity for all,
    and may the hills be fruitful.
Help him to defend the poor,
    to rescue the children of the needy,
    and to crush their oppressors.
May they fear you as long as the sun shines,
    as long as the moon remains in the sky.
    Yes, forever!

By Chuck Griffin

Justice was a byword for 2021, and it will continue to be an important concept for this year, as it has been for thousands of years.

When the above psalm was written, kings and princes were lifelong arbiters of justice, which is bound tightly to other concepts like equality and fairness. In modern times in a democracy, we still vest certain people—presidents, governors and judges, for example—with a similar power. The major difference between ancient kingdoms and modern democracies is that directly or indirectly, the citizenry can now revoke that power in nonviolent ways if it is abused.

Justice has its constants, however, regardless of the era. Psalm 72 points out an important one, a truth spanning thousands of years. Justice has a source. Justice springs forth from the very nature of God. His will defines what is just and unjust, and it also is part of God’s will that justice be done.

Be it a king, prince, governor or judge, it has always been the prayer of godly people that the justice-givers root their task in a studied understanding of who God is.

God seeks to make people free. As Christians should understand, Christ went to the cross to give us freedom from the sins that bound us as they caused us to treat each other unjustly. Accordingly, those charged with providing justice in this world need to ask if they are making the people around them more free.

God asks that we live now as a people who believe he will provide a full and complete kind of justice one day. Right will be declared right, and wrong will be declared wrong, but at the same time, tremendous mercy and grace will be available for those who took time to seek the forgiveness made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice.

It should be our hope that today’s justice-givers incorporate appropriate measures of grace in their decisions, while remembering that victims of injustice crave restoration and renewal.

It’s a tough job. I admire those who take it on; I also pray they humbly keep in mind their roles as temporary conduits of what flows eternally from our maker.

Dear Lord, may justice be done in 2022, and may those charged with its provision be blessed by your guidance. Amen.

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.

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.