Have Mercy

Scripture Focus: Psalm 51.1
1 Have mercy on me, O God, 
according to your unfailing love; 
according to your great compassion 
blot out my transgressions.

Reflection: Have Mercy—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

We think of sins as individual actions but that is only one dimension of sin.

David’s words, “against you, and you only, have I sinned,” do not mean that he did not sin against Bathsheba, or Uriah, or Joab, or against his whole nation. He sinned against God by bringing harm to those God cared for, who included Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, and the entire nation.

David’s confession, often prayed by individuals to confess failings, acknowledges that David’s so-called individual sin brought harm upon more people than just himself. The healing brought by the confession will likewise be collective, not individual. David writes that his confession and God’s mercy will “prosper Zion” and “build up the walls of Jerusalem.” 

Pray this pluralized version of Psalm 51 this week, confessing not only our individual sins but the sins of our communities, churches, and nations.

Have Mercy
Have mercy on us, O God.
Yours is the only love unfailing
We pile up great, unending heaps of transgression
You pour out great, enduring floods of compassion

Have mercy on us, O God.
You are the only righteous judge.
Our sins fill the earth and reach the skies
Your justice rolls like rivers, comforting mothers’ sighs

Have mercy on us, O God
You alone bring new birth
We toil in darkness, faithless, broken, aimed toward death
You clothe us in light, resurrect faith, make us blessed

Have mercy on us, O God
You are our only holiness
Our filthy rags fail to cleanse, smearing our waste around
Your blood-dipped hyssop drips cleansing mercy down

Have mercy on us, O God
Your purity stands alone.
Our ruin rots beautiful things. Our touch drips decay and doom
Where your fingers trace, truth, love, and beauty bloom

Have mercy on us, O God
Redeem our sin-wracked ways
Our errors and crimes, cause pain, hurt, and harm 
Your grace comes behind us, with love as your balm

Have mercy on us, O God
Make our lives a lesson
Our efforts are selfish, our success is hollow
Your mercy to us teaches sinners to follow

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. — Isaiah 9.1– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 12  (Listen – 4:26)
Psalm 51 (Listen – 2:19)

Read more about Rend Your Hearts
When we rend our heart in community with others, we invite God’s power to work in us for redemption and restoration.

Read more about The Radical Procedure of the Gospel
It’s lovely to think of God giving us a new hear…But it is terrifying to admit to the diagnoses that would lead to such a radical procedure.

Apocalypse, How?

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 11.13
Then I fell facedown and cried out in a loud voice, “Alas, Sovereign LORD! Will you completely destroy the remnant of Israel?” 

Reflection: Apocalypse, How?
By John Tillman

Today, we think of an “apocalypse” as a kind of ending event, involving widespread destruction, suffering, and death. 

Apocalypses come in different flavors from zombies to aliens, from resurrected dinosaurs to natural disasters. Some of our apocalyptic tastes can be quite bizarre. Who would have guessed in 2013 that by 2020 there would be five sequels to Sharknado?

The popularity of “apocalypse” in entertainment has even spawned industries supporting “preppers” who stock up on guns, ammo, food, supplies, or whatever they may need for various kinds of apocalyptic scenarios.

We have apocalypses all wrong.

The Greek word, apocalypsis, does not mean destruction or the end of anything, much less “zombies.” Apocalypsis means unveiling or revealing, and it is the Greek title of the book we call “Revelation.” But the book called Apocalypsis or Revelation isn’t the only apocalyptic part of the Bible. There are many books, poems, writings, and stories that are considered “apocalyptic” in nature. Some “apocalypses” are violent, some are not.

Jesus told his disciples that he would “apocalypse” the father to them, meaning that he would reveal to them God the Father. In fact, Jesus’ entire ministry could be described as one long, loving apocalypse, revealing to us what God is like. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 14.9)

When we read an “apocalyptic” passage in the Bible, we need to remember that something is being revealed or exposed.

In Ezekiel’s vision, the suffering he witnessed caused him to fall to his knees and cry out, fearing that all would be destroyed. This is often our fear as well, which is revealed in our fictional apocalypses. Name your fear and there’s an apocalypse flavor catering to it. We fear the breakdown of society and human nature? Hollywood gives us zombies. We fear the destruction of irresponsible science and business? Hollywood gives us Jurassic Park. Our “apocalypses” are revealing after all. They reveal things about us.

Ezekiel did not fully understand the depth of Judah’s sin until he saw the horrifying visions he records. Many times, it takes a moment of horror for us to be forced to confront our own sin. Our sin will be “apocalypsed” to us. But how?

What sin have you glossed over or covered that God might “apocalypse” to you?
What spiritual “prepping” have you done that might aid you?
Are you ready for an apocalypse?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Open my eyes, that I may see the wonders of your law. — Psalm 119.18
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 11  (Listen – 3:53)
Psalm 50 (Listen – 2:26)

Read more about Prepare for the End
Whenever and however “the end” comes, we can be soberly prepared, watchfully vigilant, and unwaveringly hopeful.

Read more about How to Read Prophetic Judgment
There are many prophecies of the Old and New Testaments that are meant to comfort us. But the more typical function of prophecy is to cause us discomfort.

Prepare for the End

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 7.10-11, 23-26
      10 “ ‘See, the day! 
         See, it comes! 
         Doom has burst forth, 
         the rod has budded, 
         arrogance has blossomed! 
      11 Violence has arisen, 
         a rod to punish the wicked. 

      23 “ ‘Prepare chains! 
         For the land is full of bloodshed, 
         and the city is full of violence. 
      24 I will bring the most wicked of nations 
         to take possession of their houses. 
         I will put an end to the pride of the mighty, 
         and their sanctuaries will be desecrated. 
      25 When terror comes, 
         they will seek peace in vain. 
      26 Calamity upon calamity will come, 
         and rumor upon rumor. 

Reflection: Prepare for the End
By John Tillman

2020 apocalypse bingo cards became a meme early in the year. For example, “I did NOT have ___________ on my 2020 Apocalypse bingo card.”

Australian fires, murder hornets, dual hurricanes, riots, pandemics, earthquakes, asteroids, and even the comic book villain, Galactus have all made appearances in the meme based on real or hypothetical threats that seemed to loom over the horizon of each month.

Hidden beneath the meme’s humor is a real feeling and a biblical truth: The end will come and we won’t like it.

I remember fellow seminary students pressuring a professor to endorse the “pre-tribulation” rapture which proposes Jesus will remove Christians from the Earth before the deadly tribulations described in Revelation. The professor (rightly, I think) felt that there was insufficient biblical evidence to say definitively one way or another, but the students persisted. The frustrated professor eventually turned to the pushy students and said, “Do you really think we deserve that?”

Christians are sometimes guilty of looking forward to the apocalypse like a private revenge fantasy. Just a hint: imagining everyone who was mean to us burning isn’t Christ-like. 

But even if our personal enemies burn, that won’t mean we won’t suffer too. Christians, just like the nation of Israel, can become complacent about the coming of judgement and can wrongly assume that being loved by God will preclude us from any loss or harm. 

Ezekiel is very descriptive of the terror of the end that is coming. Righteous people throughout scripture, like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and others, suffer for the collective sins of nations. What makes us think we are more righteous than they?

One thing is sure. Biblical prophets warn that “The Day of the Lord” will be darkness and not light. (Amos 5.18) It will be a time of the outpouring of God’s wrath on the wicked and the guilty, including those simply guilty of living among people of unclean lips.

Whenever and however “the end” comes, we can be soberly prepared, watchfully vigilant, and unwaveringly hopeful. If we suffer, let it be for doing what is right. (1 Peter 3.13-17) If we die, we will be with the Lord. If we live, we will be transformed to meet him in an instant. (1 Corinthians 15.51-53) No matter the manner or form of our death, and no matter how or when our end comes, let us be prepared, knowing that to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1.20-22)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Happy are they whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there! They will be satisfied by the beauty of your house, by the holiness of your temple. — Psalm 65.4
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 7  (Listen – 4:32)
Psalm 45 (Listen – 2:17)

This Weekend’s Readings
Ezekiel 8  (Listen – 3:21), Psalm 46=47 (Listen – 2:15)
Ezekiel 9  (Listen – 2:05), Psalm 48 (Listen – 1:28)

Monday’s Readings
Ezekiel 10  (Listen – 3:16), Psalm 49 (Listen – 2:10)

Read more about Living Is Harder
The truth is that living for Christ in the mundane and ordinary is far more difficult than dying for him.

Read more about Revelation of Love
No matter the evil forces, evil governments, spiritual powers, or societal pressures that grasp at us or stand in our way, we who answer Christ’s call will go home to Heaven.

A Hymn of the Oppressed—Throwback Thursday

Scripture Focus: Psalm 44.23-26
      23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? 
         Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. 
      24 Why do you hide your face 
         and forget our misery and oppression? 

      25 We are brought down to the dust; 
         our bodies cling to the ground. 
      26 Rise up and help us; 
         rescue us because of your unfailing love. 

Reflection: A Hymn of the Oppressed—Throwback Thursday
By John Tillman

When the founding documents of the United States were written, the chief form of religious persecution with which the founding fathers were concerned was not an encroachment of Islam, or secularism, or Marxism. They had in front of mind religious persecution of Christians by Christians.

Despite his popularity as a hymnist, Isaac Watts was a nonconformist who suffered persecution by the Church of England. Like other nonconformists, he suffered exclusion from the best universities and from many employment opportunities, both secular and religious. Watts’s poetic rewrite of Psalm 44 reveals hints of the kinds of persecution he patiently endured.

Psalm 44, Isaac Watts.

Lord, we have heard thy works of old,
  Thy works of power and grace,
When to our ears our fathers told
  The wonders of their days.

How thou didst build thy churches here,
  And make thy gospel known;
Amongst them did thine arm appear,
  Thy light and glory shone.

In God they boasted all the day,
  And in a cheerful throng
Did thousands meet to praise and pray,
  And grace was all their song.

But now our souls are seized with shame,
  Confusion fills our face,
To hear the enemy blaspheme,
  And fools reproach thy grace.

Yet have we not forgot our God,
  Nor falsely dealt with heav’n,
Nor have our steps declined the road
  Of duty thou hast giv’n;

Though dragons all around us roar
  With their destructive breath,
And thine own hand has bruised us sore
  Hard by the gates of death.


We are exposed all day to die
  As martyrs for thy cause,
As sheep for slaughter bound we lie
  By sharp and bloody laws.

Awake, arise, Almighty Lord,
  Why sleeps thy wonted grace?
Why should we look like men abhorred
  Or banished from thy face?

Wilt thou for ever cast us off,
  And still neglect our cries?
For ever hide thine heav’nly love
  From our afflicted eyes?

Down to the dust our soul is bowed,
  And dies upon the ground;
Rise for our help, rebuke the proud,
  And all their powers confound.

Redeem us from perpetual shame,
  Our Savior and our God;
We plead the honors of thy name,
  The merits of thy blood.

When we read of persecution, either in the scriptures or in history, we tend to think we ought to learn to be like the heroic victims. This is a worthy goal. However, history might be very different if rather than idolizing the martyrs, we could study how not to become the oppressors.

*Poem from The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament:

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My mouth shall recount your mighty acts and saving deeds ll day long; though I cannot know the number of them. — Psalm 71.5– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 6  (Listen – 2:49)
Psalm 44 (Listen – 2:44)

Read more about What Is Persecution?
It is a sign of great uncharitableness and cruelty, when men can find in their hearts to persecute others for little things — Richard Baxter

Read more about Complete Our Joy — Guided Prayer
Joy permeated the church despite the pervasiveness of persecution and the pressures of the surrounding culture.

Exiles Near God’s Heart

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 5.1, 3
1 “Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard.

3 But take a few hairs and tuck them away in the folds of your garment.

Reflection: Exiles Near God’s Heart
By John Tillman

Though at times Ezekiel prophesies the future, at other times, he seems to be demonstrating and explaining what God’s current judgment means.

One of Ezekiel’s lived-out object lessons involves shaving off all of the hair from his head and beard. This enacted parable teaches us about God’s judgment and his love.

God embodies himself in our shame.
When God instructed Ezekiel to shave off his hair and beard, Ezekiel played the role of God and the hair shaved off represented the people being separated from God because of their sins. The shaving of the head was a common form of humiliation when done to an enemy or of mourning when done to oneself. Ezekiel shows us a shaved and mourning God who takes on himself the humiliation and shame of our sins. 

God’s vow of Salvation will not fail
Shaving the head was also a well-known way of marking the completion of an oath or a vow (Acts 18.18). This aspect of Ezekiel’s demonstration hints at the covenantal vow broken by the people—a vow that God alone can complete. God will uphold his vow to bring salvation. The promise made to Eve in Eden, to Abram in Ur, and to David in Bethel, would be fulfilled by Christ on Golgotha. God symbolically shaves his head ahead of time, knowing his faithful servant would complete the vow.

God holds the faithful exiles close to his heart.
Most of the hair cut off is burned, scattered, or cut up by a sword. But Ezekiel is instructed to save out a few hairs. He protects these, tucking them into his garment for safe keeping. These few hairs represent the faithful remnant, held close to God’s heart. They may even represent individuals such as Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Daniel, prophets of the day who were faithful to God. Some of the hairs are burned, showing that even the faithful may still suffer during times of judgment. (Just as Daniel and Ezekiel live, but Jeremiah is eventually stoned.)

In Ezekiel’s depiction only a few will be saved and tucked close to God’s heart in his garment. In the course of history, however, the number of those saved, drawn back to his heart, and carried into new life will be an unnumbered multitude. (Revelation 7.9)

We praise God that he bore our shame, his vow of salvation is sure, and he tucks us close to his heart! Amen.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me, O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me, O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace. — Agnus Dei– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 5  (Listen – 3:28)
Psalm 42-43 (Listen – 2:32)

Read more about Different Kind of Exile
Living as outcasts in society has nearly always brought healing to the church through suffering.

Read more about The Mingled Prayers of Exiles
Pray today as the exiles prayed, with mingled sorrow and joy.
We weep for losses, sins, error, and struggle. 
We shout for mercy, comfort, redemption, and aid.

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