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.


When a United Methodist pastor is ordained, a bishop lays hands on their head and leads the congregation in asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon that person for the lifework they are about to pursue. The second part involves the bishop commanding the ordinand to “take the authority” of their particular office of deacon, elder, or bishop. Even in the order of the ceremony, the power of the Holy Spirit precedes the church’s or bishop’s authority and is sought first. In the Ordinal’s language we see the always moving and living Spirit being invoked, and we trust the Spirit’s ongoing outpouring on the ordained. Those who are ordained serve as conduits of the Spirit’s moving among the whole people of God as they worship, serve, give, and obey.

Sometimes the “obey” part can be tricky. I once had a crisis of conscience over performing a church member’s wedding. It had become evident to me through the pre-marital counseling that this relationship, which began online, would not be safe for my wealthy bride. I suspected that the groom was a predator. When I addressed this with her, she was quite angry with me and wanted to continue with the wedding. In the end, I told them that I could not do the wedding, obeying the strong suggestions of the Holy Spirit. She left the church in anger, only to return a year later to tell me that a private investigator had discovered that this man had married and divorced six other women he met online and had amassed half of their fortunes. My refusal to do the ceremony bought her enough time to investigate him.

When the Holy Spirit is so strong and convicting, there is truly no choice but to obey. This is what Peter and the apostles knew as they stood in front of the Jerusalem Council and defended their authority to preach in Jesus’ name. The Council attempted to intimidate them and commanded them to stop, but they chose obedience to God rather than these human authorities. It was an act of audacious boldness. We are instructed in the New Testament to submit to authority and obey our rulers, but not when doing so is a direct contradiction of God. 

Acts 5: 27-32

27 The apostles were brought before the council where the high priest confronted them: 28 “In no uncertain terms, we demanded that you not teach in this name. And look at you! You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching. And you are determined to hold us responsible for this man’s death.”

29 Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than humans!30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God has exalted Jesus to his right side as leader and savior so that he could enable Israel to change its heart and life and to find forgiveness for sins. 32 We are witnesses of such things, as is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

The Council objected to Peter and the apostle’s preaching on the basis that they had “filled Jerusalem with their teaching” (verse 28). What an amazing testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit working through their preaching!  If someone accused me of filling my whole town with my teaching, I would be flattered as heck!   

I had the “authority” to do that wedding, but I chose to obey the Holy Spirit instead. May we tune our hearts to the authority of God through the whisperings of the Holy Spirit and find the courage to obey.

Eagle’s Wings in Reflection by Kathy Schumacher

Sound Bites

 “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” This famous line by President John F. Kennedy is a memorable “bite” from a longer speech that has since been forgotten. Known since the mid-70s as “sound bites,” phrases like this have been used in media, politics, and marketing to get a central idea across in a brief snippet of recorded speech. Sound bites are short, catchy, and memorable, and speech writers and marketing executives strive hard nowadays to construct the perfect sound bite for their clients, knowing that it will be repeated over and over. If you remember a time when phrases like “Where’s the Beef?” and “Just Do It!” dominated the airwaves, you understand the power of the sound bite in marketing.

Sound bites have been around for centuries, when you think about it. What are the Proverbs if not catchy, brief, little snippets of information created to leave a memorable piece of practical wisdom with the reader? Proverbs is a collection of statements offered without much context for the purpose of instruction, understanding, and wisdom. These life lessons were designed to help people mature in their wisdom. Note that wisdom does not equal knowledge here; knowledge is the collection of facts, whereas wisdom is the correct use of what we have learned for daily living.

Proverbs 1:1-7 (Common English Bible)

The proverbs of Solomon, King David’s son, from Israel:
Their purpose is to teach wisdom and discipline,
    to help one understand wise sayings.
They provide insightful instruction,
    which is righteous, just, and full of integrity.
They make the naive mature,
    the young knowledgeable and discreet.

The wise hear them and grow in wisdom;
    those with understanding gain guidance.
They help one understand proverbs and difficult sayings,
    the words of the wise, and their puzzles.

Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Having established what wisdom is, let us consider the origin of wisdom. The writer of this proverb clearly states that God is the beginning of all wisdom. Verse 7 reminds us that “wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Don’t stumble over the word “fear”. We understand this not to mean being terrified or afraid, but rather to be a response of proper, humble reverence that we owe God. Fearing the Lord keeps us in a position of worshipping and respectful awe, which is the best way to be when you are being taught or instructed about life lessons.

Those who seek and receive wisdom are in direct contrast to the fools who despise it. The choice is clear to all of us: will you be wise, or will you be foolish?

Growing in wisdom is a life goal for every follower. Learning never ends! When we study Scripture and allow its tenets to make us knowledgeable and discreet in our youth and mature in our naivety, we become people who can be useful in the building of the kingdom. Insightful instruction is righteous, just, and full of integrity (verse 3).

As we seek to grow closer in our relationship with God, may we choose wisdom over foolishness every day.

Growing in Wisdom by Kathy Schumacher

Good Sense

The church where I serve as a pastor has a tradition of having the youth group lead worship on a Sunday in May. It is my favorite service of the year. To see teenagers handle the responsibilities of prayers, sermon topics, testimonies, music solos, and the Children’s Sermon is a wonderful thing. They are enthusiastic, sincere, funny, and more engaged on this Sunday than any other. They also come through it with a deeper appreciation of the worship staff’s weekly efforts.

There is always a moment when their youthful wisdom catches me off guard. I love to watch the reaction of the congregation as the “aha” moment spreads through the worshippers. It is a reminder to all of us that the Holy Spirit moves through receptive believers regardless of age.     

Indeed, if you want to learn something new, listen to the little ones during the children’s time. One time I asked the kids what heaven is like and a very sincere three-year-old responded that heaven was a place where you don’t have to worry about going tee-tee in your pants. Preach it, son! Heaven absolutely is a place where you don’t have to worry about anything.

A young man named Elihu made the same argument to Job’s older yet ineffective friends. As they all sat around Job offering useless bits of commentary and advice, this young man respectfully bit his tongue and bided his time until he could no longer stand it and had to speak up. He rightfully said in verse 8 that it is “God’s Spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty One, that makes wise human insight possible.” The Spirit of God is ageless and choses to speak when and through whom it chooses, and we are reminded not to judge or put boundaries around the wisdom that might come from an unexpected source. Being open and receptive to the Spirit’s leading is part of being a follower of Jesus.

Job 32:6-10 (The Message)

6-10 This is what Elihu, son of Barakel the Buzite, said:

“I’m a young man,
    and you are all old and experienced.
That’s why I kept quiet
    and held back from joining the discussion.
I kept thinking, ‘Experience will tell.
    The longer you live, the wiser you become.’
But I see I was wrong—it’s God’s Spirit in a person,
    the breath of the Almighty One, that makes wise human insight possible.
The experts have no corner on wisdom;
    getting old doesn’t guarantee good sense.
So I’ve decided to speak up. Listen well!
    I’m going to tell you exactly what I think.

This is a challenge to all of us to slow down and incline an ear toward the younger people around us. Children especially will speak the truth without filters and their raw insights can help us to see God’s presence in unusual places. As adults, we are often too busy and focused on our issues to appreciate what is going on in a child’s mind, and we may miss the beauty and young wisdom that God offers through their eyes.

Ponder this as you go about your day today. Is there a young person in your life who deserves more of your attention? Is the Almighty’s breath working in an unexpected way through someone or something?      Our ageless Holy Spirit seeks to connect with us in any way it chooses. We would do well to listen with openness and acceptance.

Train Them Up in the Way They Should Go by Michelle Robertson

Will-fool Ignorance

What does the phrase “willful ignorance” mean? A quick Google search results in definitions such as “a decision in bad faith to avoid being informed about something,” “the practice of intentional avoidance of facts and empirical evidence,” and “the state of ignoring any sensory input that appears to contradict one’s inner model of reality.” In other words, refusing to see truth.

This is the dilemma in the classic novel “Fahrenheit 451.” The story takes place in a dystopian future where books have been banned by the government because they are “evil” and cause people to think. (Perhaps not as dystopian as the author originally intended…) A fireman named Montag, whose life’s work is to discover and burn books, meets a young woman and begins to question his reality. He steals and reads a book and becomes aware of the world around him. His wife Millicent, whose life is so empty she attempts suicide at the beginning of the story, refuses to read the book, preferring the willful ignorance that is accepted by society. She chooses the “ignorance is bliss” propaganda that has taken over the world.

I couldn’t help but think of this book when I read today’s psalm. Psalm 14 is David’s treatise on the sad state of people who reject the truth of God’s presence. He calls such people “fools” who ignore the plain evidence all around them that proves God’s existence. Creation and human history offer abundant proof of God’s nature, power, and providence, but these profoundly fallen people chose to ignore every empirical piece of truth. They chose their practical atheism with a unwavering rejection of God that causes David to call them “Nabal.” In Hebrew, this word indicates more of a moral assessment rather than an intellectual one. It’s not that they aren’t smart enough to acknowledge God, it is that they simply choose to live as though God doesn’t exist … they choose willful ignorance.

Psalm 14:1-7 (Common English Bible)

Fools say in their hearts, There is no God.
    They are corrupt and do evil things;
    not one of them does anything good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on humans
    to see if anyone is wise,
    to see if anyone seeks God,
        but all of them have turned bad.
        Everyone is corrupt.
        No one does good—
        not even one person!

Are they dumb, all these evildoers,
    devouring my people
    like they are eating bread
        but never calling on the Lord?

Count on it: they will be in utter panic
    because God is with the righteous generation.
You evildoers may humiliate
    the plans of those who suffer,
        but the Lord is their refuge.

Let Israel’s salvation come out of Zion!
        When the Lord changes
        his people’s circumstances for the better,
        Jacob will rejoice;
        Israel will celebrate!

But David knew that choosing to ignore God does no good. God is as real as the rising sun and the setting moon. The corrupt life and evil things that fools choose are revealed because truth always prevails.

We who have met the Truth and call him Jesus can rejoice in the ending of David’s psalm. Indeed, Israel’s salvation came from Zion. Christ changed our circumstances for the better and he will come again. 

This reading challenges us to consider if we are also guilty of willful ignorance. Are we ignoring uncomfortable truths about God’s plan for all of humanity? Are we turning away from the call to love the marginalized the way that God loves them? Do we tithe as we should?

 May we read our beloved Word and choose truth. Always.

True As the Rising of the Sun by Michelle Robertson

Life’s Unfair

Parents of young children eventually have a moment when words from their own parents come flowing out of their mouths and they hear themselves saying, “Life’s unfair.” I heard it a thousand times and I said it a thousand times. The bad referee call, the lead part in the play going to the teacher’s pet, the boy dumping you for the popular girl … life is full of unfair moments. These moments aren’t confined to childhood. If you’ve ever been passed over for a promotion that went to a less qualified employee, been left by a cheating spouse, or suffered any number of inequities in your life, you understand.       

There are deeper causes of unfairness in life that occur as a result of institutional racism, social hierarchy systems, misogyny, ageism, generational prejudices, etc. These underground issues prevent people from operating on an even playing field. Sadly, unfairness is a part of life. How we deal with unjust situations, however, is up to us and is a measure of our relationship with Christ.

This is the subject for our reading today. Peter addressed the servants of masters who were often unfair in their dealings with them. He focused his argument by pointing out that the stripes that Jesus suffered on our behalf bring spiritual and physical healing to all who believe. When Jesus took the sins of the world on his body as he hung on the tree, it was the ultimate “unfair” moment, but his suffering there enabled us to live in righteousness and freedom. This life is indeed unfair, but our complete and final healing will come with our own resurrections, purchased with Christ’s blood on the cross.

1 Peter 2:24-25 (Common English Bible)

4 He carried in his own body on the cross the sins we committed. He did this so that we might live in righteousness, having nothing to do with sin. By his wounds you were healed. 25 Though you were like straying sheep, you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your lives.

This is an invitation to return to our original conversion moment and redirect our lives under the faithful watch of our Shepherd. Whatever unjust treatment we receive in this life will be equalized in the next. Jesus himself will restore us.

Are you being treated unfairly? Do you crave equity and justice in your life? Are you struggling under a “cruel master”? Take heart. Jesus walked that lonely valley before you and walks it with you today. When the world was unjust to him, he bore that suffering in his body so that you might live in righteousness regardless of your circumstance.

How we respond to life’s challenges is a measure of our relationship with Christ. He endured the treatment he received, knowing his Father was with him.He believed in a future with hope as Jeremiah had promised. Sometimes you have to raise you voice in protest; sometimes you have to just quietly leave. In either case, Jesus believed that we are not alone.

May we have such faith as well.

Some Days You’re the Seagull, Somedays You’re the Pufferfish by Michelle Robertson

Choosing Obedience

Canine experts know the characteristics of each dog breed, such as personality, temperament, and trainability. I was curious about this after dealing with my very stubborn dog and was surprised to learn that her breed is not among those considered to be difficult. I have come to believe that my yellow lab is a Siberian Husky or Dachshund in disguise, which are the top breeds for being stubborn. Georgia has a mind of her own and she doesn’t mind letting you know that.

In her case, it is a simple lack of desire to be obedient. I know that her high intelligence means she understands when I tell her not to take my shoe out in the backyard in the rain, but her lack of desire to obey me overrides her thinking and I end up with a soggy sneaker.

Aren’t we all like that? Few among us are ignorant of the behavior our Lord expects of us, yet we struggle to comply when something better comes along and tempts us away from God’s will. When the choice between self-denial and self-indulgence is offered, most of us move toward gratification very quickly. We aren’t helpless to comply, but we choose disobedience.

Isaiah 53:7 (Common English Bible)

He was oppressed and tormented,
but didn’t open his mouth.
Like a lamb being brought to slaughter,
like a ewe silent before her shearers,
he didn’t open his mouth.

In our brief, one-verse lesson today, we see a reference about the Suffering Servant being brought to the slaughter like a lamb and not raising her voice in protest. Reading this through our New Testament glasses, we’re reminded of Mark 15:2-5. Jesus stood before Pilate and chose not to respond. Verse 5 states that “Jesus gave no more answers, so that Pilate marveled” (Mark 15:5, Common English Bible).

 Jesus chose.

He was never helpless as he walked toward his beating, sham trial, excruciating crucifixion, and death, but he elected to be obedient to his Father, who had put him on earth for this very purpose. Why? So that you and I might be saved. Never without options, he willingly suffered in place of his sheep so that the sheep might be saved. Jesus chose to be a sacrificial lamb who was in control of everything that happened.

If this isn’t a call to obedience, I don’t know what is. God desires that we submit to the plan, the purpose, and the calling that each one of us has received in the Body of Christ. Sometimes that means saying yes to something so far out of our comfort zone, we can’t imagine God is actually asking us to do that thing. But it is often in those far reaches of callings that we find out who we are while being reminded of Whose we are. The old cliché is true: God often isn’t looking for our ability, but rather our availability. When we are obedient, we become equipped. Are you struggling to obey?

Say yes.

Boat Queen

Read the Description

Online shopping has taught us to be very careful about reading descriptions. Size, color, texture, weight, and even other people’s reviews are all helpful as we are trying to discern what a product is actually like. If you have ever ordered something without paying attention to the description, this may have been part of the learning curve for you. It was for me! In the beginning of the pandemic, I panic-ordered hand sanitizer from an unfamiliar source and failed to look at the description closely. Where the picture (and the price!!) was indicative of a large bottle that would sit by your kitchen sink for family use, the actual product was a very expensive pocket-sized container. Well, thank goodness I ordered two!

The scriptures are full of descriptions of Jesus. John 3:16 gives the most concise description: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (I did that from memory … the King James Version was all the rage when this kid was in Sunday School. Truth be told, it was the only version we had in Sunday School.)

Reading the description makes us much more aware of the qualities and special aspects of the subject. I don’t think anyone would argue that some of the best descriptions of the Messiah come from the book of Isaiah. This Old Testament prophet had a working knowledge of the suffering servant that was yet to come. His description came with no reviews, as he was describing something that hadn’t happened yet. Unlike the eyewitness accounts of the Gospel writers, Isaiah only had prophetic visions to rely on … and yet he provided some of the most accurate and beautiful language about our Savior.

Isaiah 53:4-6 (Common English Bible)

It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
    and our sufferings that he bore,
    but we thought him afflicted,
    struck down by God and tormented.

He was pierced because of our rebellions
    and crushed because of our crimes.
    He bore the punishment that made us whole;
    by his wounds we are healed.
Like sheep we had all wandered away,
    each going its own way, but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.

Isaiah wrote that the coming Messiah would be pierced because of our rebellions. This savior would be crushed because of our sins. He would bear the punishment that made us whole. And praise God, by his wounds we would be healed. And that is exactly what happened on the cross, when our suffering savior took the sin of the world upon himself, allowing us to be free. Even though we had all wandered away, our faithful savior paid for all our crimes.

This is something to ponder today. Who is Jesus to you? If you were to write a description of him, what would you say? How would you describe our Wonderful Counselor? I challenge you to actually write these words down in your Bible somewhere.

And when you’ve finished with your written list, write it again on your heart.

Weathered Star by Michelle Robertson


 Many of you know that my daughter is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed when she was a junior in college and like many cancer patients, she had a series of surgeries as part of her treatment. Each one left a scar, and surely there are emotional and spiritual scars that went along with the physical ones. We were vacationing together a few years after it was over, and we noticed a young man on the beach with large scars on his neck running up the back of his head. As we speculated about the cause, she leaned over to me and said, “You know, Mom, scars are like tattoos. They just tell better stories.”

Scars that brought healing indeed do tell of hope and redemption. The stories they tell of survival, triumph, and victory become a badge of honor to the wearer.

In our passage in Isaiah today, we read about the future Messiah’s scars. His will be so deep that he will appear disfigured and even somewhat inhuman. Yet while his appearance will be unlike any other human, it will astonish and silence everyone. His scars will tell a much, much better story.

Isaiah 52:13-15

Look, my servant will succeed.
    He will be exalted and lifted very high
14 Just as many were appalled by you,
    he too appeared disfigured, inhuman,
    his appearance unlike that of mortals.

15 But he will astonish many nations.
    Kings will be silenced because of him,
    because they will see what they haven’t seen before;
    what they haven’t heard before, they will ponder.

As I read that today, it made me wince. I was taken back in time to the severe beating that Jesus endured on our behalf before they forcibly nailed his broken bones to a rough wooden cross. I saw a picture of our lovely savior so damaged that his disciples might have had to look twice to pick him out from among the three who hung there that day. I grieve my sins that put him there.

But Isaiah didn’t just put him there and leave him in this passage. Indeed, he began with the bold promise that this suffering servant would not only succeed but would be exalted and lifted very high. When Jesus ascended back to his Father, the story was complete and the good news was delivered once and for all. This is why our crosses in United Methodist churches are empty. Our broken, battered Lord is no longer there, but was made whole and beautiful again in his resurrection.

What scars do you bear that can help you tell your story of hope and redemption to others? Did Jesus come into your life to lift you up and make you whole again? We have an opportunity to be wounded healers if we are willing to share our stories with others so that they might find him, too.

Our sins may have put Christ on the cross, but they didn’t keep him there. Because of the resurrection, we all are invited to participate in the greatest story ever told. Do you believe that? Do you believe in the resurrection?

If you do, go and tell. By his wounds we all will be healed.

Exalted by Michelle Robertson


In 2008, Pixar Studios released a cautionary tale called “WALL-E.” It was a love story about two robots who were left behind to work on what remained of earth after humanity fled on starships. As we journey through their relationship issues, we see a startling portrayal of what has become of humankind. With robots available to do every kind of work, people have become debilitatingly obese and are confined to lounge chairs, living their lives through screens and artificial intelligence.

In Biblical terms, they have “allowed their god to be their stomach” and are now suffering from the pursuit of earthly pleasures and indulgences. This dystopian look at humanity’s future was also predicted by Paul, who warned against such things in our reading today. Even as he addressed the church at Philippi, he was very forward thinking, wasn’t he?

Philippians 3:17-21 (Common English Bible)

17 Brothers and sisters, become imitators of me and watch those who live this way—you can use us as models. 18 As I have told you many times and now say with deep sadness, many people live as enemies of the cross.19 Their lives end with destruction. Their god is their stomach, and they take pride in their disgrace because their thoughts focus on earthly things. 20 Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body, by the power that also makes him able to subject all things to himself.

Paul was deeply distressed over these “enemies of the cross” who lived lives that were complacent and content in the wrong-headed assumption that once salvation of the soul had occurred, the body could pursue earthly delights with abandon. This type of thinking was called Gnosticism and it became the bane of Paul’s ministry throughout his life. He encouraged them to follow his example and the example of others who were imitating the life of Christ.

And we know that the life of Christ was a life of self-denial. The Gnostics practiced a life of self-indulgence, and it grieved Paul to his core.

We, too, are to imitate Christ as Paul did. One of the best things about the season of Lent when it comes around is the deliberate resetting of our priorities as we reevaluate the quality of our spiritual health. Practicing self-denial for 40 days goes a long way toward recalibrating our hearts and minds toward Christ. Perhaps we should practice Lent as a daily lifestyle all year long.

Paul reminds us that we are citizens of heaven and should focus our thinking as those who are merely foreigners here. Earthly delights will fade away in the light of heaven’s rewards, and if heaven is our true home, we will be strengthened against any temptation this “colony” has to offer.

God has promised to transform us into the likeness of Christ when we join him there. Our challenge today is to transform our thoughts, actions, words, and deeds into his image in such a way that others will see and know that we don’t belong here but are just passing through. How is God calling you to respond to this text today? Do you need to give something up in order to claim your heavenly citizenship? Save your own soul and follow Paul’s example.

Just Passing Through by Michelle Robertson

Limp Hands and Rubbery Knees

Do you ever experience anxiety? Anxiety is a biological reaction to external and internal pressures and threats. It is the body’s way of alerting you to hunker down or flee a threatening situation. It is a feeling of fear, dread, and uneasiness that can cause you to sweat, feel restless and tense, and have a rapid heartbeat. It can be a normal reaction to stress.     

Two months ago my dog suddenly collapsed and had to be hospitalized for three days. We didn’t know what was wrong, and while she was gone from the house, I experienced a constant pain and pressure in my chest that was so pervasive, I could not relax or sleep. It hurt. It went away when we were able to bring her home, but for people with anxiety disorders, the reaction is not temporary and can be overwhelming.

Our passage from Isaiah today speaks directly to those who have an anxious heart. It is a beautiful reminder that God is always with us in every situation, and we can count on God to come and save us. We can offer our limp hands and rubbery knees to our mighty God and find strength and help there.

Isaiah 35:1-4 (The Message)

1-2 Wilderness and desert will sing joyously,
    the badlands will celebrate and flower—
Like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom,
    a symphony of song and color.
Mountain glories of Lebanon—a gift.
    Awesome Carmel, stunning Sharon—gifts.
God’s resplendent glory, fully on display.
    God awesome, God majestic.

3-4 Energize the limp hands,
    strengthen the rubbery knees.
Tell fearful souls,
    “Courage! Take heart!
God is here, right here,
    on his way to put things right
And redress all wrongs.
    He’s on his way! He’ll save you!”

 The times we are living in right now are filled with anxiety. You can’t go through a day without experiencing some anxiety over the latest news, driving in heavy traffic, the climate crisis, violence in our streets and across the world, mass shootings, worry over the economy and jobs, raising children, marriages falling apart … the list is endless.

 A friend shared that after several life-challenging events, she is struggling so much with anxiety that she realizes she needs to find help. She said that this gave her a sense of shame and disappointment. I know that those feelings are real, but I countered that if she were experiencing symptoms of diabetes, she would see a specialist and possibly go on insulin. It is the same with anxiety … getting professional help puts no shame in that game. That is the smart move.

When anxious thoughts overwhelm you, close your eyes and imagine Isaiah’s vision of God’s power and presence in your life. To those who are anxious, Isaiah says, “Courage! Take heart! God is here”. Take a few deep breaths, pray and meditate, and go for a walk. And if anxiety is persistent and pervasive, a good therapist is in order, just as you would seek help for a heart condition. God can use ALL things for your good if you open yourself to help.

God is here, right here, on his way to put things right.

Orange Sunset Glowdog