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Fall 2018, 40 Days of Prayer, Day 35

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“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. By Your favor do good to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.” Psalm 51:16-19

The Joy of Religious Expression
God takes no delight in heartless sacrifice. He does not delight in religious expression when the heart is far from Him. When sin dominates, religious rites offend God. However, God loves our tangible acts of worship. He loves our worship when our hearts are engaged. In verse 16, David stated God’s displeasure with sacrifices. However, just two sentences later in verse 18, he states that God delights in sacrifices. What a difference verse 17 makes! When we have contrite and broken hearts before God, He receives our worship. The heart of the worshiper is the difference in God’s attitude toward our worship. David distinguished between the sacrifice offered in verse 18 from the rejected sacrifice described in 16 with the word “righteous.” God loves “righteous sacrifices.” God distains religious expression offered without a right relationship with Him. God is a God of relationships. If our relationship with Him isn’t right, no amount of religious actions can bridge the relationship. But God loves it when we use tangible expressions to worship Him when our relationship with Him is right. When we approach Him in humility and contrition for sin, He welcomes our worship because He is a God of relationships. As we approach this coming Sunday, now is the time to prepare our hearts, minds and bodies for a time of worship. There is great joy in bringing to God tangible expression of our love for Him.

Prayer Focus
God, prepare my heart for worship. Use the gathering of the church and our offering of song, prayer, service, fellowship and giving as a means to please You and to fill our hearts with joy. Reveal to us any areas that are causing a barrier to our relationship with You. Refine us and restore us. Maximize our worship of You and Maximize our joy in our relationship with You. Amen.

Sermon by John Wesley, The New Birth
“Ye must be born again.” John 3:7
Before a child is born into the world he has eyes, but sees not; he has ears, but does not hear. He has a very imperfect use of any other sense. He has no knowledge of any of the things of the world, or any natural understanding. To that manner of existence which he then has, we do not even give the name of life. It is then only when a man is born, that we say he begins to live. For as soon as he is born, be begins to see the light, and the various objects with which he is encompassed. His ears are then opened, and he hears the sounds which successively strike upon them. At the same time, all the other organs of sense begin to be exercised upon their proper objects. He likewise breathes, and lives in a manner wholly different from what he did before. While a man is in a mere natural state, before he is born of God, he has, in a spiritual sense, eyes and sees not; a thick impenetrable veil lies upon them; he has ears, but hears not; he is utterly deaf to what he is most of all concerned to hear. His other spiritual senses are all locked up: He is in the same condition as if he did not have them. Hence he has no knowledge of God; he is not at all acquainted with him. He has no true knowledge of the things of God, either of spiritual or eternal things; therefore, though he is a living man, he is a dead. But as soon as he is born of God, there is a total change in all these particulars. The “eyes of his understanding are opened;” (such is the language of the great Apostle;) and, He who of old “commanded light to shine out of darkness shining on his heart, he sees the light of the glory of God,” his glorious love, “in the face of Jesus Christ.” His ears being opened, he is now capable of hearing the inward voice of God, saying, “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you;” “go and sin no more.” This is the purpose of what God speaks to his heart; although perhaps not in these very words. He is now ready to hear whatsoever “He that teaches us knowledge” is pleased, from time to time, to reveal to him. He “feels in his heart,” to use the language of our Church, “the mighty working of the Spirit of God;” not in a gross, carnal sense as the men of the world stupidly and willfully misunderstand the expression; though they have been told again and again, we mean thereby neither more nor less than this: He feels, is inwardly sensible of, the graces which the Spirit of god works in his heart. He feels, he is conscious of, a “peace which passes all understanding.” He many times feels such a joy in God as is “unspeakable, and full of glory.” He feels “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him;” and all his spiritual senses are then exercised to discern spiritual good and evil. By the use of these, he is daily increasing in the knowledge of God, of Jesus Christ whom he hath sent and to all the things pertaining to his inward kingdom. And now he may be properly said to live: God having quickened him by his Spirit, he is alive to God through Jesus Christ. He lives a life which the world knows not, a “life which is hid with Christ in God.” God is continually breathing, as it were, upon the soul; and his soul is breathing unto God. Grace is descending into his heart; and prayer and praise ascending to heaven: And by this intercourse between God and man, this fellowship with the Father and the Son, as by a kind of spiritual respiration, the life of God in the soul is sustained; and the child of God grows up, till he comes to the “full measure of the stature of Christ.”

Posted by Daniel Sweet with

Fall 2018, 40 Days of Prayer, Day 34

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“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17

Marks of a Broken and Contrite Heart
What is a broken and contrite heart? What is a broken and contrite heart with specific reference to our relationship to God? When speaking of a broken heart we need little outside assistance. All of us have been betrayed by a friend or spurned by a potential love. All of us have had our hearts broken over the loss of someone or something significant to us. From deep seated emotional stress to physical symptoms, when we have badly broken hearts, our broken hearts control our every waking moment. We even struggle when we are not awake, as our sleep is restless. We battle feelings of hopelessness and despair. Physically our energy may be low and our motivation may be stymied. We feel distant from others and alienated even from our own self. Someone betrays us and life changes dramatically in how we think, feel and act because of a broken heart.

We can also experience this same sense of brokenness when we are the offending party. When we hurt someone or betray them, we are heartbroken for the harm done to that person and for our own sense of failure in the relationship. Husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and co-workers have all experienced both being betrayed and being the betrayer. When those relationships are damaged, the next step to restoration involves a brokenness and contrition of heart. “I feel terrible about the pain I have caused you.” “Please forgive me.” “I am so sorry for what I have done to hurt you.” These are statements of contrition. For David, he had committed adultery and then murder. He spent a year without any consequences for his actions. He even took Uriah’s grieving spouse, Bathsheba, into his home and married her. Did Israel perceive this as an act of mercy by David? Did David give the illusion of doing good while covering his evil? For a year David maintained life as usual. He probably attended religious activities at the tabernacle. He may have even shown support for the priests and Levites in their function as spiritual leaders of the nation. Did he offer sacrifices? Did he bring animals for sin offering? All of this external appearance of wholeness was a fraud. All of this was simply a cover for a corruption of heart, mind, body and soul. One year later Nathan the prophet confronts David. David responds with repentance through which he crafts this psalm. The psalm opens with the words of contrition. “Be gracious to me, Oh God.” Even though David’s sin greatly impacted Bathsheba and Uriah along with their families, his sin ultimately was an offense against God Himself. God had established David as King of Israel. God had placed him in that position through the anointing ministry of God’s prophet, Samuel. For David to then use that position in order to commit such incredible sins against others was particularly offensive to God. However, despite David’s unique position and unique sin, all sin really falls in this category. God has created and given to us incredible opportunities for good. He gave us minds, bodies, relationships, gifting, and many other resources. These were given to us by God to honor Him and to serve others. Sin violates the purposes for which these gifts have been given to us by God. When we sin against others, we ultimately are sinning against God.
The first step in forming a contrite heart is being confronted with the reality of our sin against God. David had surely offered sacrifices during the time of his year of duplicitous living. However, none of those offerings reached the heart of God because the relationship between David and God had been severed through David’s rebellion. Our sins, the sin we commit every day, both big and small, are sins against God. Our sin separates us from Him. Contrition begins with an acknowledgment of our sin and its devastating impact. We have to own this. We can’t blame someone else. We can’t blame God. Our sin is our own. When we see God has He really is and our sin as it really is, guilt, heartbreak, isolation, desperation all flood the soul. And God loves the fact that we are now seeing our sin the way He sees it. This humility before God is met with the compassion of God. God is a God of relationships. And He loves restoring relationships with repentant, contrite people.

Prayer Focus
Oh God, I confess that my sin violates all of the purposes for which You have created me. I have used Your gifts and Your resources for my sinful own purposes. Please forgive me. I am so sorry for failing to see You as You really are, holy and pure. I am also sorry for failing to see myself as I really am, sinful and rebellious. Thank You for Your unending mercy. Thank You for how You wait patiently for me to turn to You. Work in me so I may experience the very purposes for which I have been made. Amen.

Sermon by John Wesley, The New Birth
“Ye must be born again.” John 3:7
What is the nature of the new birth? Our Lord sufficiently guards us against any expectation of the over simplification of this concept, by the words immediately following the text; wherein he reminds Nicodemus of as indisputable a fact as any in the whole compass of nature, which, notwithstanding, the wisest man under the sun is not able fully to explain. “The wind blows where it wishes,” — not by thy power or wisdom; “and you hear the sound of it;” — you are absolutely assured, beyond all doubt, that it blows; “but you cannot tell from where it comes, nor where it goes;” — the precise manner how it begins and ends, rises and falls, no man can tell. “So is every one that is born of the Spirit:” — You may be as absolutely assured of the fact, as of the blowing of the wind; but the precise manner how it is done, how the Holy Spirit works this in the soul, neither thou nor the wisest of the children of men is able to explain. However, it suffices for every rational and Christian purpose, that, without descending into curious, critical inquiries, we can give a plain scriptural account of the nature of the new birth. This will satisfy every reasonable man, who desires only the salvation of his soul. And to this, one might be asking, “How can these things be?” They cannot be literally: — A man cannot “enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born:” — But they may be spiritually: A man may be born from above, born of God, born of the Spirit, in a manner which bears a very near analogy to the natural birth.

Posted by Daniel Sweet with

Fall 2018, 40 Days of Prayer, Day 33

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“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17

The Sacrifices of God
For David and for all the Israelites who are reading this psalm, the sacrificial system of the nation of Israel would have been very familiar. There were regular sacrifices of worship and thanksgiving, along with offerings for sin. There were periodic ceremonies such as Passover and Yum Kippur, demonstrating the need for forgiveness and mercy for the whole nation. These events also celebrated God’s gracious provisions for the nation in the past. For David, having been caught in this egregious sin, the religious standards of his day dictated a journey to the center of religious life, the tabernacle. There, those riddled with guilt would confess and make sacrifice. Usually the offering of a lamb or some other animal would provide tangible expression for the confessor. Confidence in such religious rites arose out of the origin of these rites. God had provided Israel with the sacrificial system. This system, which was intended to give tangible expressions to the nation in times of thanksgiving and in times of repentance, came from God. David’s instinctive reaction after getting caught in adultery and murder would have been to run down to the tabernacle. However, David also knew the founder and author of these religious expressions. God never intended the ceremony to be a substitute for our hearts. God never intended the Passover to be celebrated as mere external religion. From the beginning of the formalized religious life of Israel, all of the sacrifices and ceremonies were intended to communicate profound spiritual truths that radiated out of a relationship between God and Israel. Each individual act of worship and sacrifice provided the individual the opportunity to express profound spiritual truths. These acts communicated aspects of God’s relationship to that individual and to the whole nation. God never intended these acts of worship to be disconnected from the heart of the worshiper.

Religion without Relationship
God is a God of relationships. He describes His relationship to us in a variety of ways. For instance, the Bible depicts God as a loving Father and us as His children. The Bible describes our relationship to God as similar to the way a sheep relates to a good shepherd. The Bible uses imagery for Christ’s relationship to the church as that of a groom to a bride. Jesus even described His relationship to Israel as a mother hen desiring to gather her chicks under her wing. God is a God of relationships and all religious expressions provided for Israel and for the church were granted by God as a means of expressing our relationship to Him. Sin breaks the relationship. God, as a God of relationships, offers grace and mercy and forgiveness. The tangible religious act of an offering for sin provided Israel a demonstrative means of expressing confession, contrition and God’s willingness to forgive. Not limited to sin offerings, gratitude also draws people closer to God and thus God provided offerings of thanksgiving as a means of expression for the nation’s gratitude for daily provisions. In addition to religious offerings, times of worship provided moments to cultivate intimacy. God provided worship for the Israel to enhance their relationship with Him. All of the formal religious ceremonies were intended to enhance the relationship. These ceremonies were never an end to themselves.

That is why David, though steeped in ceremonial traditions of the worship of Israel, does not run down to the tabernacle and offer a guilt offering. He has the resources. Surely the king of Israel could produce a bull or a lamb to offer. He has access for the tabernacle resided in Jerusalem, David’s city. David knew that no mere external religious expression would resolve the depths of the broken relationship between him and God. God knew David’s heart. God knew David’s motives. God knew long before David knew that to offer a sacrifice without the heart being fully engaged would be a fraud. David offered himself to God with a full confession of his broken heart. Broken hearts happen when relationships dissolve and the offending party feels the weight of the broken relationship. Mere external expressions can never restore what is broken at the heart level. Our sin breaks the heart of God and damages our relationship to Him. God is a God of relationships. He knows our hearts better than we do. He seeks to restore the relationship because He is a God of relationships.

The Necessity of the Broken Heart
Just as Israel had the sacrificial system, the church has ceremonial aspects of our worship. In our context, as believers in Christ and as a church gathering together regularly for worship, we also have been given tangible expressions of our relationship to God. We have baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The church regularly gives, sings, prays, fellowships and serves. All of these acts originate from the mind of God. Just as He provided the religious life of Israel, He has provided for the church these tangible expressions of our relationship to Him. However, just as with Israel’s religious life, these expressions are not intended as an end to themselves. These religious rites provide us with physical tools to portray spiritual realities. David, after the sin with Bathsheba, knew that mere religious ceremony was insufficient to reconcile his relationship to God. In fact, mere religious ceremony is never sufficient. We are creatures of habit. We also tend toward laziness in our relationships. We get comfortable with others and take them for granted. We are prone to allow ongoing rote activities become substitutes for authentic relationship. Moments of crisis shock us out of the mundane, rote external behavior and pierce us to the heart. David likely had an active religious life when the sin with Bathsheba emerged. However, it might well be that David had defaulted to the external actions without having his heart engaged in the relationship with the God He worshiped.
The same thing can happen to us. We might sing every Sunday but as the words are coming out of our mouth, our hearts and minds are focused on something else. We might attempt to appease God through giving some money to the church or someone in need. We might try to impress God through church attendance. Just as for Israel, there is nothing inherently wrong with religious acts as God provided those to both Israel and the church. Sacrifices and burnt offerings originated with God. He gave them to Israel in order to provide tangle expressions of worship and faithfulness to Him. Giving, worship and the church also come from God. He established these aspects of religious life. God gave us tools to express gratitude, repentance, dependence and worship directed toward Him, but all of these acts must begin within the heart of the worshiper.

Prayer Focus
O God, You have created us for relationship. My sin separates me from You. No mere religious ceremony can make our relationship right. Forgive me! Restore me! Give me a desire to walk with You. Protect me from mere external religion. Engage my heart and mind as I pray, study and worship. You know my heart and You know my weaknesses. I am prone to act religious while being completely disconnected from You. Draw me close to You. Amen.

Sermon by John Wesley, The New Birth
“Ye must be born again.” John 3:7
If it be said, “But that threatening, ‘In the day that you eat it, you shall surely die,’ refers to temporal death, and that alone, to the death of the body only;” the answer is plain: To affirm this is flatly and palpably to make God a liar; to claim that the God of truth positively affirmed a thing contrary to truth. For it is evident, Adam did not die in this sense, “in the day that he ate of it.” He lived, in the sense opposite to this death, above nine hundred years after. So that this cannot possibly be understood of the death of the body, without impeaching the veracity of God. It must therefore be understood of spiritual death, the loss of the life and damage to the image of God. And in Adam all died, all human kind, all the children of men who were then in Adam’s loins. The natural consequence of this is, that everyone descended from him comes into the world spiritually dead, dead to God, wholly dead in sin; entirely void of the life of God; of all that righteousness and holiness wherein Adam was created. Instead of this, every man born into the world now bears the marks of the devil in pride and self-will; the image of the beast, in sensual appetites and desires. This, then, is the foundation of the new birth, — the entire corruption of our nature. Hence it is, that, being born in sin, we must be “born again.” Hence every one that is born of a woman must be born of the Spirit of God.

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