“Looking for Mercy”
Psalm 51 is one of the more well-known psalms from the Wisdom Literature's of the bible. It begins with “Have Mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin."
In penning these words the psalmist turns to God to confess his very own sins. In doing this act, he confronts the fact that he is not perfect in the way he treats others, nor the way he views the world. This is not to say that he is an evil person who has no regard for others, but it is to say that compared to God, he has a very limited view and a narrow scope or a short reach on what it means to be a faithful person unto God. He even confesses that even at birth he was born into sin.
This introspection that the Psalmist reflects on should give us cause as followers of God to consider our own sense of self-awareness, our own limited views on the world and the places where we can discover that our prejudices can creep in and easily influence the way we think and behave. If we do not stay aware of those things, we will fall short of the glory that God means for us to live in as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
Following his confession, the psalmist then asks God to cleanse him with hyssop, you may remember that a centurion that was on duty during Jesus’s crucifixion, gave him a bitter wine using a stalk from a hyssop plant. The plant, about 27 inches high with a flowering bouquet was used in cleansing rituals for purification purposes including the spreading of blood over the doorpost of the Hebrew people on the night of the first Passover.
But notice the psalmist main concern here, it is not anybody else's sins. It his own. He is seeking to find forgiveness and purity not only in his actions but in his thoughts. He is in need of and willing to have an experience of spiritual transformation. That is to say that he is willing to allow God to transform his way of thinking which will then lead to a way of dealing with the world around him; a way that is centered in God’s Word.
Listen to his words once again, “Create in me a pure heart O God, renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing Spirit to sustain me.” I believe that God is calling on each one of us regardless of our faith, race or nationality to reflect on this psalm and its meaning for our lives.
As I read comments on Facebook and as I watch the actions and reactions of people on T.V. I am reminded that each one of us need the very guidance that this psalmist offers us. To reflect on our own sins and how we just might contribute to the problem either by acts of commission or omission. Where we have joined in acts of hatred and intolerance, or at the very least failed to act with genuine love and concern for the least of our brothers and sisters, whoever they may be.
Too often we get swept up in the political biases that blare out of our T.V. screens by people trying to woo our support and we fail to listen to what God, through these Holy Scriptures, is trying to tell us we need to do.
I invite you to read Psalm 51 as a beginning place to ask the question, “What does God want me to do?” Begin with asking God to cleanse your own heart and instilling a right spirit to sustain you is a great place to begin. Then allow God to lead you in how you can show forth his Praise and Glory by sharing his love in both word and action.
L. Bryan McClain
How should we as Christians Respond to the threat of Terror?
It is apparent that we are now living in some very perilous times. Fanaticism seems to continue to grow rampant and no one seems to know what to do. Our current presidential candidates seem to think that they do, but this is not about any of their plans or ideas on how to defeat the current threats. Rather this is about how we as Christians should respond to the threats of terror, no matter where they take place. Each threat has the potential of eroding away our faith and trust in God.
So what do we do in the wake of such threats? What does the bible tell us as Christians that we should do? Where in the bible can we even look to find answers?
Revelations was a book that was written in a very dark period for the early church. Christians were being persecuted along with anyone who did not agree with, or submit to, Roman rule. Christians in particular were singled out because they lived by such a different standard.
In the second chapter of the Revelation according to John, we read what is to be understood as Jesus sending messages to the seven angels (leaders) of the seven lampstands (churches) throughout the region of the Roman occupation. The differences between Rome and the Church were becoming more and more pronounced. Clearly Rome had the power and strength of a mighty nation plus the willingness to use threats of violence and cruelty to force its message. The churches on the other hand had only one thing. Faith. It was faith that Jesus reminds them to stick to throughout the whole ordeal.
In the letter to the church in Ephesus, they are acknowledged for their perseverance in standing up to the wickedness around them.
Where they faltered and where they greatly risked being eliminated, not by Rome but by the Church leaders, is that they had fallen out of love with God.
Although nothing specific is stated, scholars suggest that in 2:4 when John says “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” he was referring to their love of God. Instead of being examples and witnesses of Christ in their lives in a Christ-like manner, they were more prone to return evil for evil. While they were good at safeguarding the fellowship of believers from false prophets and those who would mean them harm, they stopped short of trying to reach out to them with the true gospel of Jesus Christ. The circumstances they faced made them hard hearted themselves. What this begins to look like is that they did not welcome anyone else into their circle of fellowship. Basically, the message to each church is to remain true to what you have been taught in Christian faith. First love God, then love your neighbor. Hold one another accountable and do not forsake the teachings just because times are tough.
Let us not just live a life that simply reflects the love and grace of God. Instead let us live a life that also honors what Jesus did on that cross, and honors the work and sacrifice of those first witnesses of the resurrected Christ. Do not be afraid and do not forsake your first love, God our Father.
L. Bryan McClain
The Season of Lent
As we begin the season of Lent today, we play a little “Biblical Hop Scotch” and jump back in Luke’s Gospel to the beginning of the fourth chapter. This is at the point where Jesus has been baptized and now enters the desert.
As most of us have already experienced in worship this past week (by attending an Ash Wednesday service), we have marked the beginning of Lent and begun our forty day journey to fast, pray, read scripture, and spend time in devotion with God.
Jesus’ journey into a barren wilderness was not just time spent in devotion to God. He didn’t just offer up a prayer at a certain time every day and He did not simply refuse to open the pantry door giving up his favorite snack food. He went into the desert where he was forced to fully rely on God. There was no one else. For forty days the words he heard were his own but he also had the Word of God from the scriptures he had been learning since he was a child.
For forty days the only person he could talk to was God. God became his constant companion, and Jesus fed off of God’s word. The bible says he fasted, but scholars have learned that could mean that he may have eaten what was available to him in order to sustain his physical being. This would have enabled him to concentrate on the spiritual sustenance he was getting from God. The point is, he denied himself the luxury of what we would call normal food and let the Word of God become his main course. By the end of his forty days of wandering through the desert, Jesus would either be really connected to God, or he would be stark raving mad, ready to eat the first thing that came to him. He may also have been questioning God’s motive in sending him to the desert, wondering why God would put him through such torture.
Just before Jesus leaves the desert he encounters the devil or the tempter. He is faced with three very important questions. I stress to you that they are the three most important questions you and I will wrestle with in our lives unless we make the spiritual journey called lent. The questions are: 1. Who do I love more, myself or God? 2. What do I love more, the world with all its glory or the glory of God?, and 3. Can I trust that God really does love me? Jesus, the Son of God faced these questions and it is through his actions that we learn to deal with the temptations that come to us.
The first question is about what he loves more, a comfortable life filled with endless possibilities and power or the life which God sent him to live? He has not eaten for forty days and his body is physically stressed to the max. Jesus, who we call the Bread of life, is starving for a piece of bread. And then the Tempter reminds him that he has the gift, the talent and the power, to do amazing things. And imagine the temptation that comes to him, “I can turn this stone into bread and feed myself. I can take care of me, after all I am the Son of God, I deserve it.”
We all have been given certain unique gifts and talents. When I am tempted, I hear the Tempter reminding me of the gifts that I can use. The questions I ask myself when tempted are: “Who do I love more, myself or God? Who will I put first? Whose glory does Jesus seek? Whose glory do we seek?”
Because Jesus spent those forty days fasting, praying and devoting himself fully to God, he was able to combat that temptation with what he had feasted on, the Word of God. He answers the Tempter with “Man cannot live by bread alone but on every word of God.”
After dispersing the Tempter, Jesus suddenly comes to the realization of the power that is his as the Son of God and he is able to see before him all the kingdoms of the world, past, present and future. He knows that in being the Son of God, he does not really have to walk the path of suffering in order to rule the world. He could take the easy way out; he could bow down to the devil of worldly power or the king of corruption. He could easily, with a wave of his hand, have the world at his feet, loving and adoring him. He would not have to suffer humiliation nor go through some puny man’s trial. Nor would he have to be beaten and nailed on a cross. All he would have to do is defy the purpose for which his father in heaven sent him. This purpose was not to save the world from misery and despair, hunger and poverty, but to save it from being forever separated from God by sin. The question behind this temptation is this; “Is the love and adoration of the World more important than the love and adoration of God? “ Again Jesus, because he devoted himself to God during those forty days, knew without a doubt what he loved more. He knew God’s way was the right way even though he foresaw the ordeal he was facing. His answer was, “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him. “
Even after confronting such temptation, another question arises. “If the only way the world can be led back to God is through my, the Son of God, death, does God the Father really love me? Maybe I am despised by my own father. Maybe God would rather be with all of them than me.” And so again he is tempted. This time the temptation is to throw himself off of the pinnacle to see if the angels really will come and rescue him as written in the Scriptures. Here you see the evil Tempter has adapted and learned to use scripture to twist things around and mess with our minds, even Jesus’.
Because Jesus made his time in the wilderness a truly valuable time, growing closer to the father and trusting him to take care of his needs, He knew the answer to that as well, “Do not put the Lord YOUR GOD to the test.”
So, as Jesus wrestled with the root of all our sins in these three basic questions, must we wrestle with the question of why we are even tempted to commit sin?
In the first question, our struggle may be in deciding who to help first given all the resources available. Would you choose your own or others, even under stress who will you be more faithful to?
The second question asks us if we love our own glory and adoration more than we love giving the glory to God. Power and fame, praise and glory can quickly go to our head and we can do the popular things for the wrong reasons. Keeping our focus on God’s glory rather than our own insures that we are doing the right thing for the right reason. Even if our efforts ultimately fail, we can trust that God still makes good of our attempts, just as he took Jesus’ apparent failure at the cross and worked it for good in his resurrection. The proof of this is in Jesus’ willingness to die in humiliation to glorify and honor God.
The final question, “Does God love me?” has been proven many times to us but the answer requires us to truly trust God. In the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert, he was able to focus totally on God, recalling the many lessons he had learned over the years. His attention was focused on the fullness of God that was within him, trusting God for his very survival.
I believe that these forty days, facing adversities and challenges, physical, mental and spiritual, bonded the “God side” of Jesus with the “human side” of Jesus. This forty day journey through lent is our opportunity to weather as a group, or as individuals, and bond more closely with God. This can help us to overcome our own temptations.