Hidden Places, Secret Spaces

Our beautiful Psalm today comes from a moment in King David’s life when he had just been called out by his friend Nathan for committing adultery with Bathsheba. The affair resulted in a pregnancy, so David called her husband home from the war for a “conjugal visit” in hopes of a cover-up. Uriah did not “cooperate” so David sent him back to the front lines so that he would be killed in action. David thought he had gotten away with his deceit…until Nathan called him out.

Facing the enormity of his sin was far greater than the condemnation of his friend. David’s heart is truly broken at his own behavior. He is crushed by his own transgression, and he crawls to the Lord in agony. Only God’s forgiveness can bring him relief.

Have you ever felt that way?

Psalm 51 (Common English Bible)

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
    Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!

David understands that he can’t make amends based on his own character. He has to count on God’s great compassion. He longs to be made clean.

Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
    purify me from my sin!
Because I know my wrongdoings,
    my sin is always right in front of me.
I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
    I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
    completely correct when you issue your judgment.
Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
    from the moment my mother conceived me.

When David says “I have sinned against you—you alone” he is not discounting the damage he has done to Uriah and Bathsheba. But he is aware that the breach of trust he has committed with God is far worse than any human consequence. He has to tell the truth.

And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
    you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just offer God truth in your hidden places? Well, you can. No matter what sin has separated you from God, confession and repentance allow you to start over again. God will completely cleanse you of your guilt.

Repentance is a complete turning away from the evil behavior that ensnared you. It is walking away and not looking back.

When you do that, ask God to teach you his wisdom and fill your most secret spaces with his word. God’s faithful love will redeem you.

Secret Spaces by Kathy Schumacher

We Are the Church

Where is the strangest place you have attended church since March? A parking lot? A ball field? Your car? The front lawn of the church? Your living room?

As strange as these last few months have been for us, we have nothing on God’s people in King David’s time. They wandered the wilderness for years, obediently following the Ark of the Covenant as it traveled throughout the Promised Land in a movable tent. That tent was their church.

But after David had made himself comfy and cozy in his brand new palace, he remembered that God had no home. He began to think about that.

(Hmmm. Were David’s priorities in the right order?)

2 Samuel (Contemporary English Version)

7 King David moved into his new palace, and the Lord let his kingdom be at peace. Then one day, as David was talking with Nathan the prophet, David said, “Look around! I live in a palace made of cedar, but the sacred chest has to stay in a tent.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord is with you, so do what you want!”

Sometimes even well-meaning friends give you the wrong advice. God set Nathan straight.

That night, the Lord told Nathan to go to David and give him this message:

David, you are my servant, so listen to what I say. Why should you build a temple for me? I didn’t live in a temple when I brought my people out of Egypt, and I don’t live in one now. A tent has always been my home wherever I have gone with them. I chose leaders and told them to be like shepherds for my people Israel. But did I ever say anything to even one of them about building a cedar temple for me?

David, this is what I, the Lord All-Powerful, say to you. I brought you in from the fields where you took care of sheep, and I made you the leader of my people. Wherever you went, I helped you and destroyed your enemies right in front of your eyes. I have made you one of the most famous people in the world.

10 I have given my people Israel a land of their own where they can live in peace, and they won’t have to tremble with fear any more. Evil nations won’t bother them, as they did 11 when I let judges rule my people. And I have kept your enemies from attacking you.

God is so much more than a building. He is greater than four walls and a roof. The trouble with buildings is that they need constant repair, and sometimes donors end up worshipping the structure more than the Lord. Think I’m exaggerating? Look around. How many little brass people-plaques do you have in your sanctuary?

God’s “building” was going to be so much greater. He looked at David and decided to build a lineage that would run straight to Jesus. And Jesus would come to build a church of love, compassion, justice, hope, and peace.

Now I promise that you and your descendants will be kings.

I write this today to offer you a message of comfort. You may not be able to be in your “building” on Christmas Eve. You may not be in a sanctuary for many more months to come. But if we’ve learned one thing from this pandemic, it is that God is wherever his people are. That is the whole point of Christmas. The incarnation was about God coming to us to inhabit our world, our lives, our hearts, and our hopes and dreams for the future.

Christmas is all about God WITH us…Emmanuel.

Come, Lord Jesus! Come.

Sunset Church by Karen Warlitner

Pouring Out Speech

This has been a week for “pouring out speech.” The presidential debate and ensuing commentary have not lacked for words. If we thought things could not get worse on social media, news commentary, and our overall feeling of woe, we were wrong. A lot of speech was indeed poured out, but not much knowledge was revealed. We just left feeling battered and bruised.

This phrase actually appears in a psalm of David. Where would we be without David? The Old Testament would be lacking in so much learning had there been no King David. From his many acts of sin, which teach us about repentance, to his incredible way of shaping and forming word-pictures in the Psalms, we owe David a debt of gratitude for his life and his work.

Today’s Psalm is a favorite of mine. I can hear the music from an old choir anthem I sang decades ago in the first verse. The last verse is a common prayer used by pastors before they preach. You may have heard this in church and not realized that it is from Psalm 19:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

I think this is a challenge for us as well, but first let’s dive into the beauty of the beginning of the Psalm. Pay attention to the way David figuratively gives voice to the different aspects of creation…the sky proclaims, the day pours out speech, and the heavens declare:

Psalm 19 (English Standard Version)

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

We see an image of God’s entire creation singing his praises in David’s words. It is chill-bump worthy. Then David pays homage to the safety and comfort of the law. As one who broke it many times he should know!

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules[d] of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward
.

At the end of the Psalm is the challenge I would like to put before you today. It’s not just preachers who need to pray that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to God…it’s all of us. It applies to what we say to our spouses, how we discipline our children, what we post on social media, the words we wear on our t-shirts and yard signs, and how we behave in Presidential debates. We, too have been given a voice to either declare the glory of the heavens and be a proclamation to God’s handiwork or be an embarrassment to him. So here is your challenge: THINK before you speak or post.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Heaven Declares God’s Glory by Karen Warlitner

Being the Runt

The Lectionary passage today takes us back to the time when a new king of Israel was to be selected from among the sons of Jesse. Samuel was in charge, and as he looked over the fine specimens standing in front of him, he assessed them by their height and physical appearance. Watch what happens:

1 Samuel 16 (The Message)

When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Here he is! God’s anointed!”

But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

10 Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel. Samuel was blunt with Jesse, “God hasn’t chosen any of these.”

11 Then he asked Jesse, “Is this it? Are there no more sons?”

“Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.”

Samuel ordered Jesse, “Go get him. We’re not moving from this spot until he’s here.”

12 Jesse sent for him. He was brought in, the very picture of health—bright-eyed, good-looking.

God said, “Up on your feet! Anoint him! This is the one.”

The runt, of course, was David, who is still thought of as one of Israel’s most powerful kings. And he wasn’t even in the running.

Have you ever felt like that?

I suspect that one of the greatest roots of sibling rivalry is feeling inadequate in comparison to one’s siblings. If your sisters and brothers are good-looking over-achievers, you may have grown up feeling like the runt of the family. I know a very accomplished third-born who, in his 50’s, was still comparing himself to his high-achieving older sister and brother and calling himself “the runt.”

Isn’t it good to know that there are no runts in the family of God?

This story reminds us that God sees all of our potential, beauty, and promise with no comparison to those around us. He sees us as uniquely designed in HIS image, and recognizes the value inherent in each of us….a value that he himself imparts to us, so we can trust that it is GOOD, just like the rest of his creation.

You matter to God. You are highly valued by him. You, indeed, are the apple of his eye!

So if you woke up this morning feeling a little inadequate, a little left out, or a little down, remember that God cherishes YOU. You are a child of God in a family that is runt-free. Thanks be to God!

Milk Dud the Runt by Welcome to Nature via Twitter

Judging Covers

Living on a canal affords us magnificent views of the sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and the neighbors’ back yards. Think “Rear Window,” the iconic Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly thriller. In that movie, Stewart is confined to a wheelchair after an injury, and spends hours watching his neighbors from his apartment’s rear window. He witnesses what he realizes is the murder of one of them, and the disposal of her remains by her guilty husband. If you have never seen this movie, find it today if you enjoy Hitchcock mysteries. Or just to watch Grace Kelly, who is nothing less than ethereal in this film.

But here in Colington, I have only observed the mundane things of water living; neighbors and their kids swimming off their docks, people enjoying the sunshine on their decks, a lot of waterfowl, lots of fishing, and early morning crabbers going out in their boats to check their traps. On Wednesdays I see sailboats circling in the harbor for the weekly community sail out to the sound. One time I watched an aggressive osprey fight with a large eel that kept slipping out of its talons. The osprey almost dropped it on my head as it victoriously flew over my deck back to its nest to feed the family. That surely would have caused me to list my house immediately, views or no views.

The fronts of our houses face the water, so when you travel along the streets of Colington, you are actually looking at the rather plain backs of houses. I remember taking my Mom on a boat ride on the canals and she exclaimed, “Oh, the houses are so pretty! I never realized I’ve been looking at the back of the houses all this time!” Indeed, the fancy decks and staircases, the covered porches, and the tiki bars that people have constructed all face the water. It’s like the houses have turned their backs on the street in order to face the prettier view themselves.

There is a saying that comes to mind: Never judge a book by its cover. This is just a reminder to us to look deeper and don’t make assumptions about books, houses, and especially people.

There was a time when a man named Samuel was sent to select the next king of Israel. When he looked at the fine young men standing before him, all of them Jesse’s sons, he naturally selected the biggest and most handsome one, but God said no. He continued down the line, and each time God rejected the obvious selection:

1 Samuel 16:7 New International Version (NIV)

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Finally, the smallest son was called from the field where he had been tending sheep. This one, the runt of the litter, was the one whom God chose. His name was David, and he became one of Israel’s greatest kings.

The Lord looks at the heart. People focus on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks inward.

What can we glean from this today? Is there someone in your life who needs and deserves a deeper look? Are you guilty of making snap judgements about people you meet, based solely on their appearance? Where is God calling you to take a second look, and this time to look at the heart?

I met an elderly lady once in the lobby of a very fine restaurant. We were surrounded by all sorts of people, nationalities, and ages. The younger ones were tattooed, as most younger ones are today. Within the first three minutes of meeting this woman, she expressed outrage at all the girls and their tattoos. I live on the Outer Banks and don’t even SEE tattoos on people anymore. It’s wearable art. Everybody has at least one. This lady was dressed to the nines, but would have been highly offended if someone had criticized her choice of scarves and fake pearls. She would have wanted people to see the real her. So do the tattooed girls.

Take a look around you. The down-and-out person might be just the one Christ is calling you to befriend. The uppity church lady wearing too much perfume might be shielding a life of loneliness and heartache. The frantic, hassled guy at the gas pump might have just been told his wife is dying of cancer. The rude teenager might be having suicidal thoughts.

Look deeper. Ignore the wrapper. Be like Jesus and look into the HEART. What is on the outside is just window dressing, but what is inside is a real human, deserving of your kindness and consideration. That tattooed girl just might be royalty under all that ink. After all, she is the daughter of the King.

This tattoo is on the arm of a girl with a heart of gold.