Psalms by the Sea

Greetings, friends! I am happy to let you know that my book, Psalms by the Sea, has just been published and is available at Amazon. This is a 30 day devotional that takes you through a journey of the psalms. I hope you will come along!

Below is a free leader’s guide for small group use that accompanies the book. You can use Psalms by the Sea as a 5-week study. I hope you enjoy it!

Psalms by the Sea Small Group Leader’s Guide

This guide is provided for groups who wish to study Psalms by the Sea together. Originally intended as a personal devotional resource, Psalms by the Sea can easily be turned into a 5-week group study by using this leader’s guide.

This book, available at Amazon, is a compilation of 30 devotionals intended to take the reader on a journey through the ancient songs of praise, lament, wisdom, trust, and thanksgiving. These five categories are not obvious in the book, but I specifically organized my writing so that it could translate into a study on these individual psalm-types. By immersing ourselves in God’s word on a daily basis, we hope to learn how to sing new songs of faith to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. By coming together in a group every week, we can learn from one another and understand the different functions of psalm categories and what it means to worship God in every season of life. I pray that you and your group grow closer to God and one another as you take this pilgrimage together.

Every devotional contains a few reflection questions within the body of the reading. These are designed for personal use but can make great discussion starter questions. I suggest that as you read through each day, highlight those questions in your book and consider using them as “ice-breaker” openers for each class. Some of the questions in the book may feel too personal for group use, and that’s okay. You will soon discover how much self-disclosure your group can handle as you go through each week. Be prepared to share your own responses to those questions as you feel led.

Listed below are the group discussion questions for each day. Some are fun and non-threatening, and others are deep. As you spend time with your group, you will know what they will respond to. If you only ask one question and it takes off for the rest of the hour, that is great! Don’t feel pressure as the leader to ask all the personal reflection questions AND the group discussion questions for the week. I have deliberately provided more questions than you could possibly use so that you can tailor each lesson to your group. Your class is the curriculum! You are the curriculum! The Holy Spirit is definitely the curriculum! The book in your hands is just a book. You and your students will be both teachers and learners in this adventure. May God add many blessings to your journey!

Week One: Praise Hymns

Songs of praise are the most common type of psalm, as psalms were written to be part of a worship experience. When we praise God, we remind ourselves of all of God’s immeasurable blessings and provision. We offer him the adoration that he deserves and express our individual and corporate appreciation for who he is and whose we are. Praise psalms can be especially helpful in times of distress and anxiety because they remind us to look outside of our circumstance and lift up our hearts to a worthy and mighty Lord. The first six psalms (Days One through Six) are praise psalms.

Day 1 Call to Worship

Today’s devotional talks about remembering a terrible situation first thing in the morning that you forgot about your slumber. Have you ever experienced an awful moment of awakening to a tragedy? Describe what it felt like. What is your worst memory of the pandemic? Did you ever wonder if we would get though it? How did you cope?

Day 2 Secret Decoders

Our study of Psalm 145 invites us to praise God on the bad days. Do you do this? Why is it important? How can psalms and songs of praise help us when we feel broken?

Day 3 Slaying the Leviathan

Today we are reminded that God is bigger than your biggest failure, fear, or regret. Can you name a “leviathan” that made you feel trapped? What does this psalm say about God’s power? What can people do when they feel hopeless in the face of monsters that threaten to annihilate them?

Day 4 Pouring Out Speech

Psalm 19 is a beautiful song of praise to the creation and the Creator. What was your favorite image? We are challenged to be sure that the words of our mouths are pleasing to God. Are we as a people declaring the glory of heavens, or are we tearing down all that God has done? Is our social media witness in line with this psalm? How should Christians express themselves?

Day 5 The Rock

Psalm 95 declares that God is our ROCK. How do you know this? Can you give examples of a time when God’s steadfast and unmovable love made a difference in your life? Do you need the rock to cling to right now? Describe your situation.

Day 6 Hunker Down or Flee

Sometimes in life God calls us to hunker down and stay in a situation that seems impossible. Other times God urges us to flee. Can you identify points in your life when this happened? What was the result? Can you name a circumstance when you saw that God was indeed a very present help in trouble?

As you finish the first week on Praise Psalms, offer your class a moment to reflect on the importance of praising God in the storms of life. Invite them to write their own psalm of praise.

Week 2 Psalms of Lament

Sometimes you just need to vent! In psalms of lament, we see exactly that: complaining, crying out for help, expressing sorrow, and confessing sin and pain. Yet lament psalms always end with a word of praise that God is in the dark places with us. These are songs that can bring great catharsis to the soul. Days 7 through 12 are psalms of lament.

Day 7 Caught

Have you ever gotten caught red-handed? We all have. Can you describe what happened? Psalm 51 boldly states that we have all been born in guilt and sin, but God teaches us wisdom in the “most secret space.” What does this mean? How does confessing help? Can God really cleanse us white as snow?

Day 8 Waiting and Watching

Are you good at waiting? Have you ever asked God to deliver you and then you had to wait? Psalm 130 is a psalm of penitence. What does it mean to offer penitence while you wait for God’s deliverance? How can we grow to be more patient?

Day 9 Secondhand Smoke

Do you think we live in a time where it is hard to learn the truth through news and social media? Have you ever endured a situation where your enemies told lies about you? What happened? Where can we go to find truth?

Day 10 We All Fall Down

Psalm 51 is a beautiful instrument of confession and penitence, reminding us that God knows everything that we have hidden away. What kind of things do people hide in their hearts? Why is it important for people to confront things that they’ve hidden away?

Day 11 Deliverance

What are things that people need to be delivered from … can you make a list? Are you struggling with any? How can people ensnared in sin, despair, hopelessness, or deception find freedom? What can the church do to help?

Day 12 Cawfee Regulah

What is your morning routine? Share it with the group. Do you think we reach for our Bibles as often as we reach for our morning coffee? How can we make changes in our daily habits to include being in God’s word? Share your story.

As you complete the second week on Psalms of Lament, encourage your students to take a moment to write their own lament song.

Week 3 Psalms of Trust and Confidence

This week we will focus on songs that express our blessed assurance in God’s strength, provision, salvation, and abiding presence. These psalms give us a sense of confidence that no matter what is happening in the world, God is still in charge. Psalms of trust remind us that we are never alone. Days 13 through 18 are psalms of trust and confidence in God.

Day 13 Timeless

Can you recall the first time you ever heard the 23rd Psalm? Why do you think it is the most used scripture for funerals? What is your favorite image from this psalm?

Day 14 Shaking and Quaking

Can you describe the power of God in one sentence? Psalm 99 is an invitation to cry out to God when we feel powerless. Why don’t people do that? Have you ever felt run over? Describe what happened.

Day 15 Out of the Mouths of Babes

King David penned a beautiful reminder about trusting God in Psalm 8. He lists reasons why we can be confident that God takes care of all his creation. Can you make a list of why people can trust God? Do you have a story to tell about a time when you trusted God with something big and he saw you through it? Share it with your class.

Day 16 Being Known

Share the name of the person in your life who knows you best. Now describe that relationship. What conclusions can you draw about being known? What does it mean to know that God knows the word we are about to say even before it is on our tongues? Does this suggest we should think before we speak?

Day 17 Fear Not

What are people most afraid of? Are you worried about something that you can share with the group? How can people find peace in a world that lacks it? What is your understanding of being “sheltered in God’s dwelling”? (See verse 5).

Day 18 Still Waters

What is your favorite Bible translation to read? Today we read Psalm 23 for the second time. List any new insights. What does the phrase “still waters” mean to the world today? How can you be a vessel of still water to someone who needs it?

As we complete this week, ask your class to write their own psalm of trust in God.

Week Four Wisdom Psalms

Wisdom psalms offer words of insight into life’s struggles and challenges. These practical words reinforce God’s teachings and provide guidelines about our actions and behaviors. A lot of the wisdom writings focus on the contrast between righteousness and wickedness. Days 19 through 24 are wisdom psalms.

Day 19 Truly Happy

Do you believe you can ever be truly happy? What would that look like? Describe what it means to “honor the Lord.”

Day 20 You Choose

Name a time in your life when you had to make a decision that changed everything. Psalm 1 describes the “wicked.” Who are the wicked today? How can society get back on the right path toward the way of the righteous?

Day 21 Night Terrors

What disrupts your sleep? Do you struggle with night guilts? What can we do when daytime anxieties take over nighttime rest?

Day 22 The Sure Thing

Name something you thought was a sure thing that turned out to be not so sure. In the Message, Peterson talks about “God-wonders and God-thoughts.” Focusing on these things helps us trust God. Can you name some? How can you witness to someone who is struggling to trust in the Lord?

Day 23 Sleepless

What does it mean to be “fearfully and wonderfully made”? Have you ever struggled with self-esteem? What does it mean to you to know that all of God’s works (including people) are wonderful? Do we treat everyone as though they are wonderful, or only the ones who are like us?

Day 24 Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Tell about a time when you went through a hard break up. What helped you get through it? Have you ever felt jealous or betrayed? Where was God when that happened? What does the psalmist mean when he says, “Commit your way to the Lord”?

Finish your class this week by instructing your students to write a brief wisdom song of something they have learned in this study.

Week Five Thanksgiving Psalms

Thanksgiving psalms are exactly that … songs that give words of thanks, appreciation, and attribution to God for his kindness and mercy. They convey the writer’s understanding of our deep dependance on God for salvation, hope, change, and redemption. God is worthy of our thanks! These humble and humbling psalms remind us of God’s graciousness and goodness toward us in all seasons of life. Days 25 through 30 complete our study with thanksgiving psalms.

Day 25 Of Mice and Women

Psalm 94 reminds us that we are blessed when God disciplines us. Do you agree? Have you ever felt rejected by God? Can abundance and fear live in the same place? What can we do with our anxiety?

Day 26 Even to Death

Psalm 48 assures us that God is everywhere. Describe a time when you experienced God in an unusual place. What does the psalmist mean when he says that God will be our guide “even to death”? Are you afraid to die?

Day 27 Though Fire and Water

There is much debate between the idea that God brings disaster versus God allows disaster. Discuss this with your class. In either case, we know that refining fires come to change us for our good. Have you experienced this? Tell what happened. Why is refining necessary? Is God refining our world right now?

Day 28 Soul-Stirring Songs

(Note to leaders: you may want to provide hymnals for this lesson.) What is your favorite hymn? Share it with the class. Are psalms painful or healing to you? Compile a list all of the things that you are thankful for right now.

Day 29 Songs of Praise

Go around the room and fill in the blank: “I love the Lord because ____________.” Are you surprised at each other’s answers? Has there ever been a time when God did not incline his ear to his people? What does it mean to praise God in the storm?

Day 30 Loyal Love

Define the word “love.” List three things you love. Do we remember to thank God for loving us, or do we take that love for granted? Does God ever let go of us? How can you help someone who doesn’t know God’s love?

Finish your study by writing a group psalm of thanksgiving. It can be a simple list of all the things you are thankful for in the group.

Being Salty

Table Salt.

Kosher Salt.

Pink Himalayan salt.

Sea Salt.

Celtic Grey Sea Salt.

Fleur De Sel

Flake Salt

Red Hawaiian Salt

… and the list goes on.

Cooking resources identify as many as 12 different types of salt and explain that each one has a specific purpose and should be used accordingly. That puts a lot of pressure on us amateur cooks! Who has time to master 12 salts when you’re just trying to think of what to have for dinner every night? Not this girl.

Back in Jesus’ day, there was only one kind of salt: salt.

Everyone knows and loves the way that salt makes things taste. Imagine pretzels or fresh tomatoes without salt. With its ability to flavor bland foods, preserve meats and fish, and make a really good foot scrub, salt is the hero of any kitchen.

Jesus tapped into people’s love and appreciation for this wonderful commodity in the 5th chapter in Matthew when he pays us the highest compliment by calling us salt:

Matthew 5 (The Message)

Salt and Light

13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

Jesus is a little salty with his opening salvo. “If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?” There is so much truth in that one little sentence. We all know people who claim to follow Christ, but you would never know it by their actions, words, deeds, and social media posts. People like that have lost their usefulness for the kingdom. Think about your own behavior. Are you bringing out the God-flavors of this earth or are you repelling people from a life of discipleship? Hate speech, anger, prejudice, name-calling, berating those who don’t think like you … none of this entices the non-believer to come to the table for a taste.

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Once I was driving my car to church and got passed by a woman in a Lexus who “flipped me off” as she sped past me. I noticed the ichthus on the back of her trunk as she peeled into a church parking lot about three blocks before my church. I wonder how many people on the road would follow her to Jesus. Not me.

How many would follow you?

Completing God’s Law

17-18 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.

19-20 “Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.

Jesus states his mission clearly. He came to complete the Law and the Prophecy that speaks of God’s unconditional love for all people. We are invited to honor that Law, live right, be a shining example of generosity, open ourselves to others, and invite them to sit with us at Christ’s table, where the salt is freely flowing.

What kind of invitation are you making with your life? You are the salt and the light. Go flavor your life in such a way that Jesus shines through every moment.

Salt and Light by Michelle Robertson

My Eyes Have Seen

We live in a cynical world. Many of us are so used to news and information turning out to be false and misleading that we don’t believe anything anymore, and rightfully so. Media outlets who are more interested in pay-by-views than good, honest investigative journalism have conditioned us to react to things this way. Long gone are the days of reliable information. Instead, we have infotainment, vitriol, hate speech, and inflammatory language.

Where is Walter Cronkite when you need him?

Let’s join a man named Simeon who delivers the good news of what his eyes have seen:

Luke 2 (Common English Bible)

25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,

29 “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30  because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and a glory for your people Israel.”

His eyes truly did see the Lord’s Christ, but in baby form. But the eyes of his soul saw the prophesied salvation, the light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory for Israel. Simeon saw and then told.

33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him.34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

This last sentence is so hard to read. I think of Mary, cradling her sweet baby boy at his dedication, and hearing that she will be pierced in her innermost being. It pierces me, too. We will talk more about Mary as we move toward Lent, but already we see her heart breaking.

So often women’s stories are overlooked in the Bible, but here we see that there was a “female correspondent” on the scene as well. Anna is an inspiration to us all, as she devoted her life to worship in the temple and praying night and day. She was able to be a reporter for the truth whose name was Jesus:

Anna’s response to Jesus

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Did you notice how much attention is paid to her age? Luke writes that “she was very old” and that “she was now an 84-year-old widow”. Hmmm, no mention of Simeon’s age … but we’ll move on. One of the better aspects of this passage is to see a woman in her golden years find a new calling as the one who delivers the news that everyone had been waiting for … the redemption of Jerusalem had been born. This reminds us that it’s never too late to start a new thing.

She went out and spoke to everyone.

Jesus as a child in Nazareth

39 When Mary and Joseph had completed everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. 40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.

Simeon and Anna saw with their eyes what we can only see with our heart. But the urgency to report the truth of his good news is just as powerful today. Do you know Jesus? Can you see his glory revealed in Scripture? Do you hear his stories repeated often in worship? Do you teach them to your children? Do you spend time in prayer and behold him there?

God calls us to deliver the good news of what we have seen with the eyes of our hearts. Go, and tell.

Morning Glory by Michelle Robertson

Blow Your Horn

What is it with trumpets this week in the lectionary?

If you read the last devotional, you might have picked up on two trumpet references. (Like a Trumpet.) In the Message version of today’s scripture, we see another invitation to “blow a trumpet for God.” As a former bassoonist, I protest. We never see our instruments elevated like this! Flutes, lyres, harps, drums, and trumpets get all the glory in the Bible. But you will never read, “David lifted his bassoon and soothed Saul with his music.” Nope, not gonna happen.

Unfair!

In today’s reading, Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and laid out an argument against the arrogance of the Jews and Greeks who were proclaiming that the crucifixion and resurrection were utter nonsense. He built the case that God chose humble, ordinary folks like them to reverse the ideas of wisdom and stupidity, miracles and anti-miracles, strength and weakness, etc., and invited them to celebrate their “nobody” status:

1 Corinthians 1 (The Message)

18-21 The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as shams.

So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered stupid —preaching, of all things! —to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.

“God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered stupid — preaching, of all things! — to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.” Amen, brother. Speaking for myself, sometimes my preaching is truly stupid, and surely all of us, laity and clergy alike, sound stupid to the non-believer when we preach forgiveness of sins, salvation through Christ, and the resurrection we all share with the Son of God himself. Stupid, indeed.

Stupid-smart, as it turns out.

22-25 While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one. Human wisdom is so cheap, so impotent, next to the seeming absurdity of God. Human strength can’t begin to compete with God’s “weakness.”

Paul is exactly right. Human wisdom is cheap and impotent next to the absurdity of the cross.

26-31 Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”?

This is when being a nobody is the greatest thing in the world. Do you ever feel like a nobody? Never mind. You truly are somebody to God.

That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”

Everything we have comes from God through Jesus Christ our Lord. And Christ gave us his everything. His heart, his mind, his teaching, his healing, his life on the cross, and the promise of life abundant. He didn’t withhold a thing. Neither should we. Now that is something to blow a trumpet about!

Or even a bassoon.

Horn Blowers by Michelle Robertson

Like a Trumpet

I came across an interesting detail in our lectionary passage today. Matthew 5:1 says that Jesus “opened his mouth and taught.” The Greek word for “opened” here is translated as more of a loud and earnest proclamation than a quiet teaching. The famous commentator William Barclay said this: “In Greek, the word for “opened” is used of a solemn, grave and dignified utterance. It was used, for instance, of the saying of an oracle. It is the natural preface to a most weighty saying.” Charles Spurgeon pushes it a little farther: “Jesus Christ spoke like a man in earnest; he enunciated clearly and spoke loudly. He lifted up his voice like a trumpet, and published salvation far and wide, like a man who had something to say which he desired his audience to hear and feel.” (Learn more here.)

I had a flashback to a time years ago when I was chaperoning my daughters’ band at a football game. The cheerleaders came out after the first quarter and threw little footballs printed with the school’s name into the stands. A few minutes later, I noticed a little boy from my church frantically waving at me as he made his way over to the band bleachers. “Pastor Betsy, they won’t throw me a football and I want a football. Make them throw me a football!” he cried.

I chuckled a little and wanted to explain to him that while I had some authority to speak in our church and be heard, I had no authority here as a band mom to do as he asked. So, I did the next best thing. I turned to the trumpet section behind me, many of whom had caught a football, and asked if anyone would share with the little boy. One immediately tossed his ball to my little friend, and all was well.

I just love band kids.

Jesus is surrounded by “the multitudes” in his outdoor, makeshift church, and he “opened His mouth” with authority and power, and proclaimed the secret to good living to all who would hear:

Matthew 5:1-12 (New King James Version)

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If we were to internalize the Beatitudes, we might just find the key to a great life. We would find comfort, inheritance, fulfillment, mercy, peace, and the promise that we can participate in the kingdom of heaven. With these words, we are invited to see God and the kingdom on earth that he desires for us.

What is important enough in your life for you to use your voice like a trumpet to help others? Would you encourage those who are poor in spirit and who mourn? Would you demand that the arrogant shut up and be meek? Would you seek righteousness in your own walk and invite others to follow? Would you shout a word of peace over the rebellious?

May we encourage one another today with mouths wide open to be the merciful and pure in heart, for then will we see God. Rejoice and be glad!

Blessed by Michelle Robertson

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Worries and Distractions

Do you ever get up in the middle of the night just to worry?

It’s 4:00 in the morning and my mind is not at rest. There is something about the “witching hour” that catches up with me more nights than I would like to mention. I get awake and start the video replay of all the things I have to do, all the things I wish I had said, all the things I regret saying (!), and a multitude of other non-sensical items dance through my head. Sometimes it can take up to an hour to fall back asleep.

Yesterday, I preached a sermon on Mary and Martha as part of our Epiphany series on “Seeing God through different things.” My emphasis was on seeing God through sitting at Jesus’ feet (Bible study) in order to arise and serve, as Mary does in this passage. I didn’t spend too much time on what was happening to Martha, so let’s take a moment to unpack that. Watch for the words distracted and worried:

Luke 10 (New Revised Standard Version)

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him.[k] 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, 42 but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Last night I was blessed to lead the youth group in a study on this passage, so naturally I focused on distractions and worries. Their responses were very telling! Everyone was able to name their distractions, and number one among the responses was “my phone.”

Are you constantly distracted by your phone? Do you find yourself in a live conversation with someone and you keep glancing down at your text messages? I was grateful that they could name it, and then five minutes later had to ask two of them to put their phones down.

Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she was worried. Who could blame her? Wouldn’t you worry if Jesus was coming to your house for dinner? I mean, what do you serve the Son of God if he came to dinner? I told my congregation that I would immediately call the church’s Care Team and request a meal to be brought over, preferably Rendy’s famous Chicken Pot Pie with a lot of side dishes. I would proudly serve that to Jesus. He’s probably never eaten as well as the Methodists do at a potluck supper! Casseroles galore over here!

We went on to talk about things we worry about, and a very lovely High School Senior said, “Disappointing other people.” She told a story about how she cried at her Spanish oral exam because she could tell that the teacher, whom she adores, appeared to be let down at how she was doing. The sting of disappointing someone hurt her heart.

I can completely relate and might even add that the FEAR of disappointing someone is often a “negative motivator” for me when I have to get something done. What a terrible burden we carry when we feel that way!

What distracts you? What are you worried about?

Now that we’ve acknowledged that we are all Martha, let’s see what Mary did. Mary instantly put her distractions and tasks aside the minute Jesus walked into the house and sat at his feet to listen to his teaching. And there is the answer for us when anxiety overwhelms us. We need to set down the worries we are focusing on and sit at Jesus’ feet and listen.

So, the next time you are awake at 4:00, open your Bible and listen. Get down on your knees and pray but be sure to listen. Take out your journal and list your worries, and then look at them again while you listen to God as he swoops in and gathers them to his bosom.

In a world full of worries and distractions, be a Mary.

Listen to the Dawn Arise by Michelle Robertson

In the Day of Trouble

Once upon a time there was a ginormous pig who escaped her yard and went on an escapade all over Kitty Hawk Village. Over the hills, through the woods, and onto the very curvy road she went. She startled me as I came around a bend on my way to my office, and I saw a pickup truck going too fast that almost hit her. In his defense, nobody would have expected a 300+ pound pig to be smack in the middle of the road. I quickly parked at the police station and jumped out of my van. From there I proceeded on foot in what we cops call “hot pursuit.” She seemed intrigued by my efforts and slowed down as I followed her in and out of people’s yards,. To be honest, she wasn’t moving very fast. So, I started to call, “Suuuu-EEE! Suuuu-EEE.” I don’t even know what that means. I might have thrown a little “here Piggy, Piggy” in for good measure.

Surprisingly, this lovely gentle giant turned and sauntered over to me, so I walked her back to the police station, stopping traffic on the busy road as we crossed it. What else was I going to do with a lost pig?

I opened the door and called into the receptionist that I was here to report a rogue pig. She probably thought I had just come from the Black Pelican bar and had been over-served. But when the pig snorted loudly behind me, she came out for a look. This pig was obviously well loved at home because she nuzzled us like a dog and enjoyed a good ear rub. As you can see, she even posed for pictures. What a ham!

An officer came out and said, “Caroline, what are you doing here? Did you take yourself for a walk again?” It turns out that Caroline lives in the big yard behind the police station and he was able to walk her home.

Not to sound like a hero or anything, but I did save her bacon that day.

Do you know that God wants to save you, too? In the day of trouble, God will pursue you as you are wandering away from him. He won’t let you out of his sight until you come home safely into the house of the Lord:

Psalm 27 (New International Version)

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple

For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Are you running away? Are you feeling unsafe and untethered? No matter what the reason is, whether the situation you are facing is a result of your bad choices or your enemies pursuing you, God offers the safety of his tent:

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Caroline was wise enough to come when she heard the voice of her rescuer. I pray that in your day of trouble, you will seek God’s face and listen to his voice. He will come, and he will be merciful.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.

God is your Savior, and you will be saved. Thanks be to God!

I told you she was big!

Knit Together

Click. Click. Slide. Click. Click. Slide. That was the sound of my childhood, sitting on the couch next to my mother as she busied herself with knitting. She was a wonderful knitter. I remember watching her knit every evening from the time I was little. Our family still enjoys “Grandmere’s” beautiful lacy throws and blankets in every color combination imaginable. In my closet is an intricate winter sweater that she knit for her own mother one year for Christmas, which was passed down to me. The idea of taking different skeins of yarn in their individual packages and weaving them together into something wearable or useful still fascinates me.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminded the people that they were meant to be “knit together.” This passage from 1 Corinthians is painful to read. Paul addressed the many divisions that had formed in the church in Corinth and basically told them to knock it off. People had aligned themselves with different church leaders and were standing in opposition to each other. Their unity had completely unraveled. Division in the church?? Say it isn’t so

It is so.

The history of the Christian church in America is filled with schisms, mergers, disaffiliations, and strife. My own denomination is going through a time of splits and separations, and it is extremely painful. United Methodism has become Untied Methodism and it breaks this pastor’s heart. I grieve the fact that we are not meeting Paul’s standard for how a church should behave:

1 Corinthians 1 (New Revised Standard Version)

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you but that you be knit together in the same mind and the same purpose.11 For it has been made clear to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 

13 Has Christ been divided?

Here is the heart of the issue. Christ has not been divided. Christ calls us into a “oneness” of thought, belief, and purpose. One of the last things he did before he made his way to the cross was to pray that his disciples and those who come later, meaning us, would be “one.”

John 17 (Common English Bible)

21 I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.22 I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. 23 I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.

We have utterly and completely failed.

Paul continued his argument with the Corinthian church:

1 Corinthians 1 (New Revised Standard Version)

Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel—and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

What can you do to bring unity and harmony to your world? Does everything have to be fought over? Can you just agree to disagree with someone rather than fracture the relationship?

God desires that we would be one in our families, our schools, our workplaces, and our churches. Is God calling you to change your attitude?

Reflecting God’s Beauty by Michelle Robertson

Immediately

This weekend I was blessed to be invited to a nearby church to do a talk about on my book Psalms by the Sea. The organizer had done a terrific job planning the entire thing and had ordered my books from Amazon for the women who wanted to purchase them. Thinking that they would have the books in front of them, I prepared my presentation in a way that I could use volunteer readers and have some of the psalms read out loud together. When I got there, she told me that the books had not come yet, so I quickly shifted to a more “author book reading style,” which turned out just fine.

We joked about why the books failed to arrive on time. Our little island’s single curvy road is under construction. Perhaps the books are stuck at the first portable stop light waiting for the little flag to go up and the light to turn from red to yellow. Or perhaps Amazon sent them by boat and our recent high winds and strong waves were too much for the poor guy rowing them across the sound. Or maybe they had been delivered and were sitting outside the organizer’s house in an odd place. This has happened to all of us, as our beachy houses on stilts don’t have a discernible front door and we often find packages left days earlier in weird places.

So, when I read the assigned scripture today about Jesus calling Peter and Andrew to follow him, the word “immediately” jumped out at me:

Matthew 4 (Common English Bible)

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishers. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 

Wouldn’t it be lovely if things happened immediately?

“Georgia, stop barking.” And Georgia stopped immediately

“Kids, go get ready for school.” And the kids got ready immediately.

“Honey, it’s time to leave for the movie.” And honey got up from the couch, turned off the football game, and immediately got into the car.

“Immediately” would be such a blessing at the DMV, when you’re on the phone holding for a “representative,” or in the overcrowded Urgent Care waiting room. Peter and Andrew had been preveniently moved by the Holy Spirit to respond to Jesus’ invitation to drop everything and become a disciple.

21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus surely had the power to move people immediately in a way that we don’t. I also think this scripture points out that we don’t respond to God’s calling quite as quickly as those early disciples, and perhaps we should learn from their example. It took me two years of discernment to decide to go into the ministry. These things must be thought out carefully but there are also times when God tells us to speak a kind word to someone who is hurting or stop what we are doing to attend to a need right in front of us and we ignore those prompts and continue to do our own thing.

Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People

23 Jesus went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

This may be a stretch, but I wonder if the fact that his posse responded immediately to his call propelled Jesus into his teaching and healing ministries. He didn’t have to continue to go around Galilee looking for a team: they were in place, and he could turn his attention to his own calling.

Where is God calling you to do something immediately? It may be as small as a phone call you’ve been putting off, or as big as starting to plan a mission trip.

Whatever it is, do it.

Immediately!

Follow Me by Michelle Robertson

Strength to the End

Two of my friends lost their mothers in December, and it always brings back memories of my own mother’s passing when that happens. If you have lost your Mom, you understand the special kind of painful hole that her death creates in your soul. Your mother, whether she was good or not, whether she was supportive and encouraging or judgmental and harsh, was the very first person to know you from the inside-out. There is a blood bond or an adoptive bond that can’t be denied. And if your mother was good, the hole is cavernous and hard to navigate, especially in the first weeks and months. Her lack of presence in this world is disorienting and foreign.

I had a good mother, so I know this pain.

Our lectionary passage today has a beautiful phrase that made me think of my friends’ new grief and my own well-worn sadness over losing our mothers. The blessing of my mother’s passing came in the way she died, as we had spent the evening together and I made her tea and helped her get ready for bed. A few hours later she died in her sleep. We didn’t know it was coming. What a tremendous gift of grace that was!

God gave both of us strength for the end.

Paul assures the church of Corinth that God will also strengthen them to the end. This is a powerful promise that we can all grab ahold of when a loved one dies or as we face our own mortality. I think this can also apply to the end of a relationship, losing a job, graduating from college, moving away from your home, adult children going off on their own … all those things that at some point must come to an end.

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the partnership of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until it’s season, something God alone can see.
(Hymn of Promise, Natalie Sleeth, UMH #707)

God is faithful indeed.

The End and the Beginning by Michelle Robertson

Deep Within

Good intentions. Everyone has them. Most people follow them. Some stray far. I always think of New Year’s resolutions as good intentions. We intend to do better at our jobs, lose weight, change habits, be more present with family, etc. but for the most part, our resolutions barely make it to February.

One good intention I hope you have is to stay in God’s Word this year. Be it a New Year’s resolution or just a desire, being centered in God’s will by staying centered in God’s word is good for the soul. This is why I write these devotionals … to help all of us approach and access Scripture in easy to digest bites. I begin 2023 with the same commitment, and I thank each one of you for following along! May we make a commitment together to read every one. If you read these on Facebook or Twitter, don’t forget that you can also sign up on my website to receive them in your email inbox every morning.

Psalm 40 reminds us of the importance of reading, learning, studying, and incorporating Scripture into our lives. The psalmist proclaims, “I want to do your will! Your Instruction is deep within me.” This could be our resolution as well.

Psalm 40 (Common English Bible)

I put all my hope in the Lord.
    He leaned down to me;
    he listened to my cry for help.
He lifted me out of the pit of death,
    out of the mud and filth,
    and set my feet on solid rock.
        He steadied my legs.

I recently tripped going up the stairs and broke my left arm. It is still healing, and it hurts to type. This last phrase, “He steadied my legs” will be my new prayer for 2023. Lord, in your mercy, save me from my stairs!

He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise for our God.
Many people will learn of this and be amazed;
    they will trust the Lord.
Those who put their trust in the Lord,
    who pay no attention to the proud
    or to those who follow lies,
    are truly happy!

Do we pay too much attention to the proud and those who follow lies? Watching the fifteen rounds of votes that it took to elect a Speaker of the House last week had me turning off the news and shaking my head. Lord, in your mercy, save us from the proud!

You, Lord my God!
    You’ve done so many things—
    your wonderful deeds and your plans for us—
        no one can compare with you!
    If I were to proclaim and talk about all of them,
        they would be too numerous to count!
You don’t relish sacrifices or offerings;
    you don’t require entirely burned offerings or compensation offerings—
    but you have given me ears!

I love how the psalmist says, “you have given me ears.” How many times during the day do we neglect to use them? Are you busy looking at your phone so much that you don’t hear your family talking to you? Lord, in your mercy, help us to listen better.

So I said, “Here I come!
    I’m inscribed in the written scroll.
    I want to do your will, my God.
    Your Instruction is deep within me.”
I’ve told the good news of your righteousness
    in the great assembly.
    I didn’t hold anything back—
        as you well know, Lord!
10 I didn’t keep your righteousness only to myself.
    I declared your faithfulness and your salvation.
I didn’t hide your loyal love and trustworthiness
    from the great assembly.

As we look toward this new year before us, may we commit to not missing a chance to be in God’s Word, whether it is by reading these devotionals, joining a Bible study, attending weekly worship, attending Sunday school, etc. Lord in your mercy, draw us into your Scriptures every day.

11 So now you, Lord—
    don’t hold back any of your compassion from me.
Let your loyal love and faithfulness always protect me
.

God offers us loyal love and faithfulness. How will you return those things to him this year?

God Leans Down by Jan Wilson