Spiritual Instruments

Scripture Focus: Psalm 19.1-4
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; 
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; 
night after night they reveal knowledge. 
3 They have no speech, they use no words; 
no sound is heard from them. 
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, 
their words to the ends of the world.

From John: The day before this devotional publishes, Sunday, April 11th, is the scheduled first flight of the Mars helicopter. May we continue to allow wonder at our universe to inspire humility and thankfulness to its creator.

Reflection: Spiritual Instruments
By John Tillman

Whatever scientific instruments we use, whether looking at evidence of black holes, at video from a helicopter on Mars, or deep within our own DNA, we find the fingerprints of God.

In Psalm 19, David tells us that the fingerprints of God are on the stars. Speech about God pours forth from the heavens in an unhearable voice that echoes through the Earth and to the “end of the world.” 

David wasn’t writing about the realities of physics but about spiritual realities. However, there are subatomic vibrations, unhearable to human ears, that do seem to testify to the creator. In an April interview with Steven Colbert, physicist, Michio Kaku, said while explaining string theory, “The mind of god is cosmic music resonating through hyperspace.” (Interview, Part One; Interview, Part Two

Kaku is not a devotee of any religion and the “god” he describes is an impersonal “god of order” not the God we know. However, the complexity and interconnectedness of what he can see, tells him that there is more to see. What he can know, tells him that there is more to know. 

Wonder about our universe is returning. With wonder comes seemingly contradictory truths about our humble state and our eternal destiny. We seem to be insignificant specks in the universe, yet the maker of that universe considers us not meaningless or trivial, but glorious and of eternal worth.

This week, or whenever you look to the heavens, pray this prayer from 2019, reflecting on Psalm 19.

Humbled by the Heavens
God, we stand in awe on our tiny planet.

You have placed us here among deserts, seas, and mountains that seem incredibly vast, yet they are just imperceptible ridges on the tiny ball of our planet.

And, in the vast darkness of space, our tiny blue dot of light seems so insignificant compared to the other great lights of the sky that you have created.

Thank you for heavens that humble us, Lord.

Without words, let us hear your glory, see your law, experience your touch and your love.

Yet you gave us more than wordless wonder, Lord. You send your Word, your Son, Jesus, to clarify your commands and enlighten our understanding.

The commands of the Lord are radiant,
   giving light to the eyes.

Give our eyes your light, our actions, your love, our words, your persuasive persistence. 

Make us spiritual instruments through which the world can detect your magnificent presence.

Image: The image in today’s devotional is of Sirenum fossae, a geological feature of Mars.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
O God, you have taught me since I was young, and to this day I tell of your wonderful works. — Psalm 71.17

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 16 (Listen – 5:36)
Psalms 19 (Listen – 1:52)

Read more about Humbled by the Heavens
David’s ancient psalm tells us where to learn about our “unobservable” God—in the heavens.

Read more about The Materialist Cosmos
If the cosmos of the materialist is the real cosmos, it is not much of a cosmos. — GK Chesterton

Overgrown by the Gospel

Scripture Focus: Psalm 15
1 Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? 
Who may live on your holy mountain? 
2 The one whose walk is blameless, 
who does what is righteous, 
who speaks the truth from their heart; 
3 whose tongue utters no slander, 
who does no wrong to a neighbor, 
and casts no slur on others; 
4 who despises a vile person 
but honors those who fear the Lord; 
who keeps an oath even when it hurts, 
and does not change their mind; 
5 who lends money to the poor without interest; 
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. 
Whoever does these things 
will never be shaken. 

From John: After reflecting on holiness as separateness and not superiority, this post from 2019, shows us how the gospel will never stop working its way into our lives to make every part of us holy. The picture used today is one from a hike my wife and I took in the Guadalupe Mountains. A rock had been tumbled to the floor of the wash that we were hiking up, and the marks of the roots of the tree that split the rock were still visible on it. 

May the roots of the Holy Spirit penetrate the hardness of our rock-like hearts and crack us open, leaving his mark upon our lives.

Reflection: Overgrown by the Gospel
By John Tillman

Psalm 15 lays out what David sees as God’s requirements for his holy people.

Reading it, we can deceive ourselves into thinking God is describing us. But if we are humble and honest, we will be struck by how far short we fall, and how rare even one of these qualities is in our world, much less all of them together.

How then, can we ever hope to dwell with God? How can we become his people and live in his kingdom and its city?

This list is not intended to be a list of ways we must prove or earn our way into God’s kingdom. Those who will live with God, as described in the psalm, are those who respond to his call, and to whom he responds by sending the Holy Spirit. Paul describes the Holy Spirit as both a down payment and a renovator of our inner being.

The gospel can be accepted in an instant, but it works in us a transformation that accelerates over time. The qualities of the people of God are cultivated by God. They are the blossoms and blooms of actions that the Holy Spirit will plant in us when we surrender to him.

When the seed of the gospel begins to grow in us, it is like the springing up of a tree from a crack in our hardened, concrete heart. As it grows, the concrete doesn’t stand a chance. The roots swell and crush the rock, cracking it open to expose the earth beneath. Soon the concrete structure is unrecognizable and covered with green growth.

Cultivation begins with destruction. May the gospel make ruins of our pride and selfishness. May we be overgrown by the gospel.

May our concrete hearts be cracked open by the swelling roots of the gospel in our lives. 
May parking lots for our possessions become parks to share with our community. 
May every sealed off vault of sin with reinforced concrete walls be ruined by the invading growth of our new nature. 
May our self-worshiping architecture be overgrown, cracked open, and torn down by the persistent growth of what the Holy Spirit cultivates in us.

May our controlled environments become reclaimed land that is transfigured into the wild beauty of the garden of God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Everyone will stand in awe and declare God’s deeds; they will recognize his works. — Psalm 64.9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Leviticus 13 (Listen – 9:34)
Psalms 15-16 (Listen – 2:03)

This Weekend’s Readings
Leviticus 14 (Listen – 8:11), Psalms 17 (Listen – 1:58)
Leviticus 15 (Listen – 4:59), Psalms 18 (Listen – 5:47)

Read more about Cultivation Starts With Destruction
Cultivation often begins with the smell of fire, the wielding of sharpened metal tools, and the sounds of chainsaws.

Read more about Cultivation Is Supernatural
Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural. We give plants a safer, healthier place to grow than exists naturally, and they give us better food in greater quantities.


Jesus, Our Blessed One — A Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 1.1-3
1 Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

Reflection: Jesus, Our Blessed One — A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Psalm 1 can be prayed as a framework for the working of the gospel in our lives. It is less an aspirational claim that we can strive for righteousness, but a recognition that only in Christ, grafted into his stream-planted trunk, can we yield fruit.

Blessed is the One
May we be among those who bless your name, Lord.
May we walk with you through the cheering crowds
Guiding a humble donkey that carries our king,
And also through the narrow streets of suffering, 
Carrying our cross, stepping in your bloody footprints of sacrifice.

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord

Lord, guide our walk, day to day 
Shape our steps, words, and actions
Differentiate our gait of faith from that of the world.
May our steps follow your grace.
May our words tell of your love.
May our actions emulate your servanthood and sacrifice.

Watch over our way, Lord, but we know that we stumble…

The Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction…
They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand

We are not blameless. We are not righteous.
When we honestly and humbly look in our hearts we find wickedness there.
Burn up our chaff with your breath
Separate us from sin so that we will not be separated from your presence.

Blessed is the one
    whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

We aspire, Lord, to fulfill this psalmist’s prayer.
We aspire to delight in your law.
We aspire to meditate day and night.

But we rely, Lord, not on our striving, but on Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the Blessed One, who delights in your law.
Jesus is the Blessed One, whose leaf does not wither.
We are merely grafted in branches, partaking of his righteousness.
Our fruit, our flourishing, and our faith are drawn up from his roots.
It is he who makes us prosper, and spreads the seed of his gospel over the earth.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me. — Psalm 101.6

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle
Today’s Readings
Leviticus 4 (Listen – 5:17) 
Psalms 1-2 (Listen – 3:05)

Read more about Praise from a Stump :: A Guided Prayer
We, in Christ, can see ourselves in both the unworthy and shamed stump, and in the new supernatural growth.

Read more about Family Tree
We can be grafted in to the family tree of Christ and bear the same fruit that he wants to bring about in our lives.

Unprecedented Spirit

Scripture Focus: Joel 2.32
And everyone who calls 
on the name of the LORD will be saved; 
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem 
there will be deliverance, 
as the LORD has said, 
even among the survivors 
whom the LORD calls. 

Psalm 142.5
5 I cry to you, LORD; 
I say, “You are my refuge, 
my portion in the land of the living.” 

Acts 2.39
39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Reflection: Unprecedented Spirit
By John Tillman

When joyous prophets pour into the streets, people want to know why. This is especially true if this joy comes at a time of suffering, a time of oppression, and a time of sadness.
This was the situation in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit directed Peter to Joel to describe the experience of being filled with the Spirit of God and explain why men and women, sons and daughters, were prophesying in the streets. (Acts 2.2-21

Peter’s audience would have also been familiar with the locust images in Joel’s description of the Babylonian invasion. The Roman legions Peter’s contemporaries were familiar with would, perhaps be an even better visual match than the Babylonians had been for Joel’s images of locusts marching in perfect rows of chitinous, armored doom.

Joel’s prophecy was multilayered in meaning. It referred to the near future of the Babylonian invasion. It also foresaw the far future in which the Lord’s armies will destroy evil, dispelling and disposing of the armies of the opposing empires of this world. Afterward, God will cause growth and abundance to replace barrenness and want.  

God himself will repay the suffering caused by evil upon the earth. The explanation for the significance of this prophecy’s fulfillment is also a part of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. God’s victory over evil, his repayment for loss, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to all who call upon him are all direct outcomes of the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

The very Spirit promised in Joel and poured out in Acts is a deposit, a guarantee, of the inheritance God has for each of us in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1.22; 5.5; Ephesians 1.13-14)

No matter the disaster that seems to surround us or is on its way, there is time to turn to the Lord. There is a time when he will relent. There is always a time when the Lord will relent.

But relenting only comes after repenting. No matter what we have done in the past, up to and including murdering his only son, we can repent and return to God. And the time for repentance is now. It is always now. 

The pouring out of God’s Spirit comes after repentance. It always comes after repentance.

May that day be soon.

And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved… — Joel 2.32

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.” — John 15.4-5

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Joel 2 (Listen – 5:26)
Psalm 142 (Listen – 1:01)

Read more Rend Your Hearts
God will replace what is lost—including replacing our hearts of stone with the pierced-heart of Jesus.

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

Facing a Biblical Disaster

Scripture Focus: Daniel 8.26-27
26 “The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” 
27 I, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding. 

Psalm 116.8-11
8 For you, LORD, have delivered me from death, 
my eyes from tears, 
my feet from stumbling, 
9 that I may walk before the LORD 
in the land of the living. 
10 I trusted in the LORD when I said, 
“I am greatly afflicted”; 
11 in my alarm I said, 
  “Everyone is a liar.”

Reflection: Facing a Biblical Disaster
By John Tillman

For some people the only use of the word “biblical” they are familiar with is as an adjective to describe the proportions of disasters. 2020 has brought multiple disasters described as being of “biblical proportions.”

Along with physical disasters, this year has brought the exhausting mental and emotional disaster of trying to sort out truth from the storm of misinformation and lies. Every problem we face seems to have competing sets of “facts” that conveniently paint one political side or the other as being the problem.

The unnatural disaster of conspiracy theories getting injected into churches by mainstream and fringe news outlets has caused spiritual and emotional trauma for many. How is it people who claim to know the truth that will set us free, have become unable to agree on basic truths? 

Christians have been filling up on bread with the yeast of conspiracy theories rather than the bread of life, and we are belching up harmful and hateful lies as a result. As Ed Stetzer has said, “Gullibility is not a spiritual gift.”

Too many Christians follow political pundits more closely than Jesus Christ. Their spiritual diet depends more on news programs than Bible passages. They are more concerned with the status and power of their political party, than the health and productivity of the body of Christ, God’s Church. Many Christians would rather change churches (or fire their pastors) than face uncomfortable truths from the Bible that conflict with their political worldview. 

This is the true biblical disaster of 2020.

Many ask, “Are we in the end times?” I don’t know. I do think we are seeing what they are like. Visions of the end, as Daniel can attest, are exhausting and terrifying. Daniel tells us, wisely I think, that visions of the end are “beyond understanding.” Even with Gabriel’s explanation, he still couldn’t understand. 

May we mimic Daniel’s faithfulness through confusion and weariness, his caution in not sharing what he didn’t understand, and his focus on prayer and the scriptures.

Rest and trust in Christ. Your exhaustion and confusion is real and justified.
Lay anguish, rage, and sadness from this crisis-filled year at the feet of Jesus, rather than weaponize it against your brothers and sisters.
Go about our king’s business. Love one another well and share the good news (the gospel) that unites us rather than news that conspires to divide us.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Of Jesus, it is written; “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” — Mark 1.35

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Daniel 8  (Listen – 4:39)
Psalm 116 (Listen – 1:34)

This Weekend’s Readings
Daniel 9  (Listen – 5:22), Psalm 117-118 (Listen – 2:52)
Daniel 10  (Listen – 3:18), Psalm 119:1-24 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Worship and Politics
I have never heard anyone say that a politically tinged sermon which agreed with their politics was “too political.”

Read more about The Seductive Idolatry of Politics
Politics is the most powerful new religion of this millennium…politics poses a greater threat to the gospel than any other religion.

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