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.

Bleak Midwinter

Raise your hand if you are among the unfortunate ones who have a December birthday. Those of you born in the other eleven months don’t have a clue. Who else gets “combination birthday/Christmas presents?” Nope, that is reserved for us December babies. I can give you a list of such combo-presents: every bike I ever received, a fancy cowgirl outfit (with boots), a black and white TV for my teenage bedroom … yes, my parents would do the combo thing when they were debating a somewhat expensive present that they were struggling to afford. Bless them!!

On the other hand, I do share a birthday with Walt Disney. I found that out when I was in High School and have always loved it. It makes me happy to share a birthday with a man of his creative genius and genuine expertise in storytelling. Happy birthday to us, Walt!

The most important birthday in December of course is Jesus’ birthday. I had a childhood practice of either staying up past midnight on Christmas Eve or waking up early on Christmas morning to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus before the day began. I would look out the window from my bed at 5 Chatham Rd. and see the streetlight shining in the dark and sing to baby Jesus. More often than not, I could see the snow falling on Christmas morning in that light, and snow on Christmas was EVERYTHING. This is possibly the only benefit of growing up in New Jersey.

I wonder what Christmas would look like if we had kept it as just a birthday party for Jesus, instead of the giftpalooza-partypalooza-spendtoomuchpalooza-shoptillyoudroppalooza that it has become. Imagine it: we would wake up, talk about how wonderful Jesus is, plan a nice meal, bake a birthday cake, have the celebration, blow out the candles, and call it a day. And it would truly be just about him.

How can we make Christmas just about Jesus again?

First, we can care about the things that he cares about. The widow, the orphan, the children crying for their parents at our country’s border…he cares about that. Giving to the needy and sharing our abundance is something he cares about. He cares about the people who are ill, in hospital beds, or nursing homes. He cares about things that are lost: souls, marriages, teenagers, car keys, runaway pets, and your will to resist temptation. He cares about the planet his father created.

He cares about YOU.

Micah 6:8 Amplified Bible (AMP)

8 He has told you, O man, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you

Except to be just, and to love and to diligently practice kindness (compassion),

And to walk humbly with your God, setting aside any overblown sense of 

importance or self-righteousness?

This Christmas, let us focus on getting Jesus the perfect birthday present. Let us dive deep into his word and grow closer in our relationship with him. Let us stand up for justice, diligently practice kindness, love one another, offer compassion, and be humble before him. Or, as Christina Rossetti once wrote:

What can I give Him,

Poor as I am?

If I were a Shepherd

I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man

I would do my part,

Yet what I can I give Him,

Give my heart. (In the Bleak Midwinter)

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

In the Bleak Midwinter by Mary Anne Mong

Reverse the Flow

Our text from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah comes from a time of high anxiety, impatience, and discouragement for God’s people. There was tremendous political infighting. Corruption was widespread. Powerful Assyria had gathered up smaller nations and was headed toward Jerusalem with an eye toward conquering them. Alternate religions infiltrated into the people’s minds, and they turned away from God. In the midst of this crisis, Isaiah had a vision of a united, harmonious Israel, and peace on earth.

Isaiah 2 

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains
    and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.

3     Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

As we begin the season of Advent, we can easily put on our New Testament glasses and see Jesus in this prophecy. He came to bring peace, unity, and harmony to our hearts. In his second coming, he will bring these things to the world when he reigns from Jerusalem as the Prince of Peace. The second coming is what we are waiting for as we dwell in the marvel of his first coming on earth on that first Christmas morning. Advent is thus a time to reflect, rejoice, and make spiritual preparations for the birth of the Messiah again in our hearts. As the carol says, “Be born in us today!”

Yet many of us will be overwhelmed by the flow of secular Christmas and spend this time overspending, overeating, overindulging, and going over the top in ways that we will pay for all next year. It will take months to shed that credit card debt and those 3-5 pounds many of us will gain between Thanksgiving and New Year. And for what? Is that why Jesus came?

I propose that we work hard to reverse the flow of commercialism and dwell in the light of Christ instead.

A friend of mine told me a remarkable story about her trip to Fort Myers last week to help people whose houses were damaged by Hurricane Nicole. The team was ripping out drywall and wet insulation from a home and the homeowner showed her something amazing. When the house was built, the homeowners went through the house with their kids and wrote Scriptures on the walls. When the flood waters came raging through the house, the water stopped just short of the place on the walls where the Scriptures were written. God’s word remained.

This is a powerful reminder for us today about the power that God’s word has over the flow of destructive forces in our lives. As we spend this Advent season trying to reverse the flow of secular behavior, may we remember to stay anchored in God’s word, which is immovable and unchangeable. If we had to choose just one scripture for this Advent waiting place, it should be Psalm 46: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

This Advent, may we commit to being still in God’s presence!

Be Born in Us Today by Michelle Robertson

Ain’t Gonna StudyWar No More

Today’s devotional begins in an unusual place. We find ourselves in Nat King Cole’s marvelous song, “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.”

Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain’t gonna study war no more.

refrain

I ain’t gonna study war no more,
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
Study war no more.
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
Study war no more.

The origin of this spiritual comes from our Advent lectionary passage found in Isaiah 2. This prophetic word points toward a time when peace and harmony will rule the earth with the coming Messiah. People will take their weapons of war and turn them into instruments of harvest, as the world moves from violence against one another to growing and sustaining one another:

Isaiah 2 (Common English Bible)

He shall judge between the nations
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation;
    neither shall they learn war any more.

In this season of reflection and waiting, I suggest we work toward finding inner peace. We won’t have outer peace without it and having peace in our hearts is something we can do now as we wait for Christ to return. Do you have peace? If not, try these things:

1. Rejoice in the Lord. 

Phil. 4:4 says to rejoice in the Lord always… not just rejoice occasionally. Not just rejoice when something great happens but rejoice in the Lord always. Making the choice to rejoice in every circumstance brings peace to your soul.

2. React with graciousness. 

Be gentle and forbearing… with everyone. Scripture teaches us that “A gentle word turns away wrath.” Paul says to let your words be seasoned with salt and designed to build up, not to cut down, designed to develop, not destroy, and designed to help, not to hurt. When your graciousness is evident to all, you not only experience peace, but you also give it to others.

  1. Rest in the Lord.

Jesus said: “I will never leave you nor forsake you!” Remembering that Jesus is with you and that you abide in Him will help you rest in Him and experience his peace when you have none. 

  1. Reach up to God in prayer.

Let prayer be your first response, not your last resort. Paul says: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 6:7)

5. Reflect on good things. 

The battle for peace is primarily fought in the mind. We must take every thought captive to Christ by meditating on God’s Word. In Phil. 4, Paul wrote: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” 

6. Repent and receive forgiveness.

The Holy Spirit will not let us be at peace when we are holding on to sin, so we must confess, repent, and receive God’s forgiveness. When we confess and repent of our sins, we find an inner peace.

Advent is a season of light. May we walk in the light of Christ as we wait!

O house of Jacob,
    come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!

Let There Be Peace on Earth by Michelle Robertson

Peace

What does the word peace mean to you? Does it include a personal perspective of your spiritual and emotional well-being? Is it an image of a family sitting around a dining table enjoying a meal together without any arguing or hard feelings? Does it indicate a global environment where countries are not at war with each other? I think it is all of that and much more.

When Jesus left this earth, he said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace be with you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus reminds us that he desires us to have a peace that can come only from a relationship with him. And his peace passes all understanding.

Do you have that kind of peace?

In the 22nd Psalm, we are encouraged to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. If you know the history of the Middle East, you can appreciate what a big ask that is. The psalmist is on a pilgrimage to the spiritual center of his religion and his heart, and his hope are focused on finding that Jerusalem can be a place of peace in the troubled world of conquests and kingdoms. He is excited to go to the temple to worship, and proud of its fortifications and strength:

Psalm 122 (Common English Bible)

 I rejoiced with those who said to me,
    “Let’s go to the Lord’s house!”
Now our feet are standing
    in your gates, Jerusalem!

Jerusalem is built like a city
    joined together in unity.
That is where the tribes go up—
    the Lord’s tribes!
It is the law for Israel
    to give thanks there to the Lord’s name,
    because the thrones of justice are there—
    the thrones of the house of David!

The halls of justice were located in Jerusalem, as the Hebrew Law made its home within its walls. The people went to this beautiful city on the hill as the law required to pay their alms and tithes at the temple and revel in its beauty. It was a spiritual and emotional home for them.

Pray that Jerusalem has peace:
    “Let those who love you have rest.
    Let there be peace on your walls;
    let there be rest on your fortifications.”

We might take a cue from this and pray for peace in our spiritual homes as well. Do you pray for your church? For your denomination? Is there peace in your pews, or does dissension live there? A pastor friend once said that church was like visiting the sausage factory … everybody loves to eat sausage, but you might not want to know what goes in it. Ever feel that way?

If that resonates with you today, take heart. Every institution made of people is bound to have conflict, differences of opinion, and the occasional (frequent) unpeaceful moment. But never mind all that. Where God is present is the only place to be. We are called to make the pilgrimage despite its flaws. Just remember to pray for peace and never cease to pray for your church’s good.

For the sake of my family and friends,
    I say, “Peace be with you, Jerusalem.”
For the sake of the Lord our God’s house
    I will pray for your good.

Let There Be Peace on Earth by Michelle Robertson

Weapons of Light

Last week I had an opportunity to speak with youth parents about their hopes and dreams for our youth group at church. We are in a season of transition and parent buy-in is the thing that will make or break our program. One mother was the parent of a High School senior and was very concerned about her daughter’s last opportunity to connect with a youth group before leaving for college. We talked about needing to arm our kids with Scriptural truths as they go out into the world, and I joked that the kids headed off to colleges especially needed strong faith “weapons of mass destruction” in their suitcases. College can be a time for even the ones who are strongest in their beliefs to wander, and so we want with all our hearts to prepare them through youth group in their high school years.

As I was driving home, I squirmed a little about my use of the phrase “weapons.” I had Ephesians 6 in my mind where Paul encourages us to put on the full armor of God, but I had some post-conversation second guessing about calling faith a weapon. Then I opened up today’s lectionary and read this:

Romans 13 (Common English Bible)

11 As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. 12 The night is almost over, and the day is near. So, let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light.

Thank you, Paul.

I love this phrase “weapons of light.” Indeed, that is what is needed to go into battle with every spirit and force of darkness, whether that is found in the secular world of a large university or the disfunction of a family or disharmony in at work. We are called to be bringers of the light and use that light as our sword and shield when necessary. In this passage, Paul is warning the Romans that the time and hour to stand up and fight for the Truth was upon them. Is there ever a time when we don’t need to be fighting for the light? I think not. I believe we are in such a time right now.

13 Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. 14 Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.

This is the week that the holiday season officially begins. Thanksgiving is the first day of a long season of celebration of the light. On Sunday, Advent begins. It is also a time of worry, anxiety, stress, and depression for many. Paul’s reminder of how to behave is spot on for where we are right now … especially the reminder to plan to not indulge our selfish desires! One small piece of pie is much better than three, people! But the central idea of being armed against the darkness shines through this passage.

Where will you experience darkness in this season? Can you bring light into somebody else’s darkness? Is there a particular weapon you need to pick up? Whether its faith, hope, love, gentleness, joy, perseverance, righteousness, truth-telling, etc., grab ahold of it today and carry it with you from now until the new year. Or better, forever.

Dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ and he will be your armor.

The Day is Near by Michelle Robertson

Feasting with Strife

Proverbs 17:1

“Better a dry crust with peace and quiet
than a house full of feasting, with strife.”

I have always loved Proverbs 17:1 as a theme verse for Thanksgiving Day! I shared this with a staff member yesterday and we both laughed out loud. I have an image in my mind of the writer taking the left-over heel from the loaf of bread that was used for the stuffing and climbing up the exterior staircase to the roof of the house to eat it alone in peace and quiet. Houses in Israel often had roof accesses so that people could sit up there in the cool of the evening after the sun set. You may recall the story of the four friends who carried their paralytic friend up to the roof in order to lower him down in front of Jesus, who was sitting inside the crowded house. That story helps us appreciate the importance of an exterior staircase. It provided the writer of Proverbs 17 a quiet escape from his bickering family below.

This passage is a reminder to us that when families gather, feasting with peace and quiet (not strife!) is the goal.

It is a reminder to keep politics, past grievances, and old grudges off the table, and look around you and be grateful for what you have.

Last night I looked out a third-floor window of my house and saw the beautiful reflection of the moon on the canal, making a silver path across the water. I remembered times when my mother and I would be talking on the phone and describing to each other the reflection of the moon from our windows: me in Colington, her in Manteo. Mom passed away in 2014 so she looks at the moon from a different perspective now. I am sorely missing her, my dad, and my incredible mother-in-law this Thanksgiving.

If you have family around you for Thanksgiving, cherish them. If bickering begins to break out, take your dry crust and quietly walk away for a minute. And if you don’t have them with you tomorrow, call them!

Life is too short for family strife.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Quiet Reflections by Michelle Robertson

Give Thanks!

What does it mean to be redeemed?

When you study the roots of the word “redeemed,” you will find phrases like “buy back,” “win back,” and “to free from captivity by payment of ransom.” This last definition gets to the heart of the matter in a theological sense. Your very soul was freed when Jesus paid a ransom for it on the cross. YOU are one of the redeemed.

In our Psalm today, we receive instructions on what the redeemed should do. This is a terrific reminder this week as we prepare for Thanksgiving. How do you measure up? 

Here is what the psalmist suggests:

Give thanks to the Lord,

Say that his faithful love lasts forever,

Cry out to the Lord in your distress,

Offer thanksgiving sacrifices,

Declare what God has done,

Sing songs of joy!

Psalm 107 (Common English Bible)

“Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
        because his faithful love lasts forever!”
That’s what those who are redeemed by the Lord say,
    the ones God redeemed from the power of their enemies,
    the ones God gathered from various countries,
    from east and west, north and south.

Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
    They suffered because of their wickedness.
18 They had absolutely no appetite for food;
    they had arrived at death’s gates.

19 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
    and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
20 God gave the order and healed them;
    he rescued them from their pit.

21 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
    and his wondrous works for all people.
22 Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices
    and declare what God has done in songs of joy!

This psalm was written during the time when God redeemed the nation of Israel from captivity in Babylon. They had cried out and were heard. They suffered because of their wickedness and were delivered. They were sick to death and were healed of their desperate circumstances.

God redeemed his people.

Our challenge today is to choose one of the things that the redeemed do and go out and do it. Can you offer a thanksgiving sacrifice by paying for someone’s order in the drive-through line behind you? Can you call or text a friend and remind them of God’s faithful love? Perhaps you might sing a song of joy to the Lord today as you take a walk or spend extra time in prayer and offer God nothing but thanks.

We are the redeemed. We are his people. We are bought and paid for by the shed blood of the atonement. Give thanks! 

Let all the redeemed say so.

Give Thanks by Michelle Robertson

Step Out of the Traffic!

If you have read these devotionals for a while, you know that while I love The Message translation for a different perspective on story-narratives, I dislike it for the Psalms. The Psalms were originally written to be songs of praise, lament, thanksgiving, wisdom, and trust. Peterson’s amazing ear for contemporary phrasing takes the lyrical flow away, in my opinion.

Today we are looking at Psalm 46. I love the phrase “be still and know that I am God” that is found in most translations. In fact, I used the NIV translation when I was putting together my book, Psalms by the Sea, for that very reason. There are several beautiful music arrangements of “Be still” that use this phrasing. However, when Psalm 46 popped up again in this week’s lectionary reading list, I decided to dip my toes into The Message to see what Peterson has to say. While not especially lyrical, I was not disappointed with his unique spin. See if you can spot the “be still and know that I am God” verse:

Psalm 46 (The Message)

1-3 God is a safe place to hide,
    ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
    courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
    the tremors that shift mountains.

What an amazing twist Peterson puts on this! God is a safe place to hide. Just that phrase alone speaks volumes to the discouraged, the abused, the addict, the downtrodden … to be reminded that God is ready to help when we need him is life-giving, even in those moments when we stand on the “cliff-edge of doom.” Having just come through another round of elections here in the United States, I really resonated with that. Are we never standing on the cliff-edge of doom anymore? A friend texted me the night that election results were being rolled out and said that he was “doom-scrolling” on social media. Actually, it doesn’t take an election to find yourself “doom-scrolling.”

    Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

4-6 River fountains splash joy, cooling God’s city,
    this sacred haunt of the Most High.
God lives here, the streets are safe,
    God at your service from crack of dawn.
Godless nations rant and rave, kings and kingdoms threaten,
    but Earth does anything he says.

Two take-aways in this section: God is at our service from crack of dawn because God neither slumbers nor sleeps. So, when you are pacing the floor in the middle of the night with fretful worrying, God is ready and able to hear your needs and take up your burden. And be reminded that the Earth does anything he says, so any man-made construct of institution, relationship, law, or oppression is subject to God’s power and God’s correction. Even the sun in its rising listens to God’s direction.

    Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

8-10 Attention, all! See the marvels of God!
    He plants flowers and trees all over the earth,
Bans war from pole to pole,
    breaks all the weapons across his knee.

As the war in Ukraine continues to rage on, my heart is lifted to know that when Jesus returns, there will be no more wars. Weapons of war will be turned into plowshares so that the world might harvest God’s bounty together as one people. Lord, haste the day!


“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
    loving look at me, your High God,
    above politics, above everything.”

Did you find it? “Step out of the traffic!” is the translation of “be still and know that I am God.” As always, Peterson’s whimsy made me laugh and nod my head. Yes, we need to step out of the traffic! We need take that long look at God and remember that he is above politics and above everything. What a soothing, timely message for us right now.

11     Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

Is God telling you to step out of the traffic of your situation or risk getting run over? Do you need to walk away from something destructive? Is God asking you to turn your eyes upon Jesus instead? If so, be still, and know that he is God.

Be Still by Kathy Schumacher

Benedictus

Have you ever had a foreknowledge about an aspect or a situation regarding your child that you absolutely saw coming? We call that a mother’s or father’s intuition, and I do believe we are biologically, spiritually, or mentally in tune with the small people we are entrusted to raise. In healthy families, there is a deep soul-connection between parent and child that is a link we can’t sever or ignore.

In our passage today, a man named Zacharias is holding his newborn son John. The birth of his first born has resulted in a kind of prophecy and foreknowledge that hasn’t been experienced in Israel for 400 years. Suddenly, Gabriel, Elizabeth, Mary, and Zacharias are infused with the word of God about the arrival of a long-awaited Messiah, and the glory of God shone around them. Zacharias begins with a word of praise for the power of God:

Luke 1 (Common English Bible)

“Bless the Lord God of Israel
    because he has come to help and has delivered his people.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house,
70     just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago.
71 He has brought salvation from our enemies
    and from the power of all those who hate us.

Remember that Jesus wasn’t born yet. He came a few months after John’s arrival, yet John’s father was filled with anticipatory hope about the savior who was about to come. As he looks forward, he remembers the past:

72 He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and remembered his holy covenant,
73         the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham.
He has granted 74 that we would be rescued
        from the power of our enemies
    so that we could serve him without fear,
75         in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes,
            for as long as we live.

After acknowledging Jesus, he turns now to address his baby son:

76 You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
77 You will tell his people how to be saved
    through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of our God’s deep compassion,
    the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
79     to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
        to guide us on the path of peace.”

This beautiful “Benedictus” (from the Latin meaning “blessed” and “to wish well”) is meant for us as well. Read that again and imagine God saying that to you. You, child, are called to go and tell the people how to be saved. You, child, are to help people heal through the forgiveness of sins. You, child, will give light to those who are sitting in darkness.

So, you, child have received the blessing of knowing Jesus. How will you fulfill your prophecy today? Go and tell.

Waves of Well Wishes by Michelle Robertson

Glory-Strength

I discovered last week that lifting an oversized leather couch needs to be done carefully. I was not careful. I instantly felt a tear in the muscles of my ribcage, known as an intercostal muscle strain. It happens when you twist and lift. Apparently, you can twist OR lift, but not at the same time. I spent the rest of the week going about my chores as I helped my daughter and son-in-law move into a new house gritting my teeth as had to bend, lift, move, and breathe my way through the discomfort. Fortunately, this is a mishap that heals itself, but over a week later I still can’t sleep on that side.

Paul talks about the difference between real strength and teeth-gritting strength. I can relate. Had I had real strength for lifting the couch, I wouldn’t have had to grit my teeth for a week. Perhaps real strength would have involved knowing the limits of my own strength and realizing I was in over my head.

In this letter to the church at Colossae, Paul is commending the people for their growth in their faith. Growing in faith requires some heavy lifting.

Colossians 1 (The Message)

9-12 Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us.

In this Message translation, Paul calls the long-haul strength that faith building requires “glory-strength.” Don’t you just love that? He encourages the followers to keep working hard at it, staying attuned to God’s will and learning about how God works. Always the encourager, Paul tells them that in his prayers he asks God to give them wise minds so they might acquire a complete understanding of God. He reminds us that God makes them strong enough to do what they need to do.

Do you need to be reminded of that today?

13-14 God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating.

Some of us may feel that we are still in dead-end alleys or dark dungeons. Sin, hopelessness, addiction, abusive relationships, etc. keep us trapped in doom pits and we need a way out. Thankfully, Christ provides it:

Christ Holds It All Together

15-18 We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

18-20 He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so expansive, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

Read that again. All the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe get properly fixed and fit together by Christ. The blood of the atonement brings us to a state of at-one-ment with God and his purpose for our lives. In him we live, breath, and find our being. And he is the greatest fixer of all that is broken.

Are you broken today? Do you need be fixed? Are you gritting your teeth because your strength is failing? Seek God and his glory-strength and he will restore harmony to your soul.

Glory-Strength by Karen DeBellis