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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.

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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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Fall 2018, 40 Days of Prayer, Day 32

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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 Heart
We live in a world of amazing medical advances.  More than any generation before us, we understand the essential function of the muscle that resides in the center of our chests.  We know with a great degree of detail the intricate operations of the human heart.  The heart functions as the primary organ for the support of the rest of the body.  When the heart stops, we die.  Because of the essential nature of the heart to the health of each one of us, specialists in the medical profession spend their entire careers focused on the health of the heart.  In the spiritual realm, the “heart” also functions as the primary support to the rest of our spiritual life.  As an example, in this very verse, the psalmist uses “spirit” and “heart” interchangeably, “a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart…”  Even in the world of modern science, we still speak of “a broken heart.”  We speak of having “our hearts moved” or “our hearts full.”  Just as the heart functions as the core of the person’s physical health, we speak of the core of a person’s spiritual health in terms of the “heart.”  A heart surgeon understands exactly what his daughter means when she tells him that she has a “broken heart.”  However, that surgeon also knows that none of the medical treatment he uses on a daily basis can eliminate that particular heartache.  In the physical realm, a person could appear fairly healthy on the outside, but their heart may possess an underlying structural problem.  So too, in the spiritual realm, a person may appear fairly healthy on the outside, but at the core of their spiritual being, not visible to those around them, there may be an underlying spiritual problem.

As we take a few days to contemplate the confession of David in Psalm 51, we begin with a heart examination.  No EKG needed for this.  Instead, we begin these forty days of prayer with some spiritual health questions.  Right now, what does your heart love more than anything else in the world?  On a daily basis, what cravings in the emotional, relational and spiritual realm mark your thoughts?  What bitter thoughts reside deeply in your mind?  Is there some hidden aspect of your daily life that you want no one else to know about?  Do people around you perceive your spiritual life to be substantially better than it really is?   When we discuss the contrite heart, it is best to begin with an honest assessment of our heart’s condition.  When we go to a heart specialist, we need an honest evaluation of the physical health of our heart.  Though we don’t want any problems with our heart, if there is a problem, we know that to begin the path to heart health we must begin with a legitimate, authentic assessment of our heart’s health.  So also with our spiritual health, we begin with an assessment of our heart.

“Wish”ful Thinking about the Heart
The opening lines of a famous song at Disney goes something like this:  “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires, will come to you.  If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme, when you wish upon a star as dreamers do...”  This sentiment follows the long held view of many that all you need to do in life is to “follow your heart.”  There are some immediate and obvious disconnects from reality in this song.  For me personally, as a 48 year old, weakening and slowing as I age, I can dream of playing in the NBA all I want.  My heart can be set upon playing in an NBA All-star game or winning an NBA title.  Despite all the wishing, dreaming and heartfelt desire, reality dictates differently.  I am way too slow and way too old not to mention the thousand plus talent issues.  However, the more fundamental flaw with this overly optimistic view of life comes from its unrealistically hopeful view of the human condition.  Underlying the very optimistic worldview is the unrealistic view that the heart possesses natural goodness.

Realistic Thinking about the Heart
Disney’s worldview concerning the condition of the human heart compared to the Scripture’s worldview concerning the condition of the heart could not be more distinct.  Disney holds the view that if we follow the desires of our heart that our dreams will come true.  In other words Disney views our heart as the conduit to good things.  The Bible describes the heart in quite a different way.  According to God, our hearts are completely untrustworthy.  Jeremiah the prophet said it this way.  “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9.  The heart is the most deceitful thing in the world, according to the prophet Jeremiah.  Our hearts tell bad lies.  We lie to ourselves by pretending to be more spiritual than we really are.  We lie to ourselves by pretending to be far less sinful than we really are.  We lie to others by constantly presenting ourselves as kinder and more gracious than our actual thoughts.  Worse of all we lie to God, trying to hide from Him our true struggles with sin.  Our attitudes betray us.  Our words betray us.  Our actions betray us.  In our natural bent, our heart leads us away from the things of God and away from that which is good.  

 We see this in the life of David.  David defeated Goliath.  We see David leading the nation into battle for the sake of the name of God.  David, the anointed king of Israel, wrote many of the psalms, including this one.  David prepared Israel for the construction of the temple as the locus for the worship life of the nation.  All of this good but on the inside there was clearly trouble.  After years of spiritual life and service, David’s deceptive heart betrayed him.  This psalm, Psalm 51, comes from the pen of David.  The inspiration for the psalm is not one of David’s moments of success.  Instead, this psalm comes from David’s failures.  David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then tried to cover for that sin with a greater evil, the killing of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband.  The condition of David’s heart was evil.  This is quite a different and more realistic view of the heart than the song at a theme park.  David followed the dreams of his heart.  The results were catastrophic.  We must pursue our relationship with God with a realistic view of who He is and who we are.  He is absolutely holy and we are prone to sin in thoughts, words and actions. 

Prayer Focus

God, we see in Your Word that our hearts are prone toward trouble.  Even if no one else can see the inner thoughts of my heart and mind, You see and know them all.  Father, kind and gracious Lord, please protect me from my own hidden motives.  Please lead me away from the temptations that reside within my own heart.  My heart is not naturally pure.  But You, Oh Lord, are pure.  Take of Your heart and mind and give to me just a small measure so that I might be more like You. 

Sermon by John Wesley, The New Birth
“Ye must be born again.”  John 3:7

If any doctrines within the whole compass of Christianity may be properly termed fundamental, they are doubtless these two, — the doctrine of justification, and that of the new birth: The former relating to that great work which God does for us, in forgiving our sins; the latter, to the great work which God does in us, in renewing our fallen nature. In order of time, neither of these is before the other: in the moment we are justified by the grace of God, through the redemption that is in Jesus, we are also “born of the Spirit;” but in order of thinking, as it is termed, justification precedes the new birth. We first conceive his wrath to be turned away, and then his Spirit to work in our hearts.  How great importance then must it be of, to every child of man, thoroughly to understand these fundamental doctrines! From a full conviction of this, many excellent men have wrote much concerning justification, explaining every point relating to it, and opening the Scriptures which treat upon it. Many likewise have written on the new birth: And some of them largely enough; but yet not so clearly as might have been desired, nor so deeply and accurately; having either given a dark, abstruse account of it, or a slight and superficial one. Therefore, a full, and at the same time a clear, account of the new birth, seems to be wanting still; such as may enable us to give a satisfactory answer to these three questions: First, why must we be born again? What is the foundation of this doctrine of the new birth? Secondly, how must we be born again? What is the nature of the new birth? And, Thirdly, for what reason must we be born again? To what end is it necessary? These questions, by the assistance of God, I shall briefly and plainly answer; and then subjoin a few inferences which will naturally follow. First, why must we be born again? What is the foundation of this doctrine? The foundation of it lies near as deep as the creation of the world; in the scriptural account whereof we read, “And God,” the three-one God, “said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him:” (Gen. 1:26, 27) — Not barely in his natural image, a picture of his own immortality; a spiritual being, endued with understanding, freedom of will, and various affections; — nor merely in his political image, the governor of this lower world, having “dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over all the earth;” — but chiefly in his moral image; which, according to the Apostle, is “righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph. 4:24) in this image of God was man made. “God is love:” Accordingly, man at his creation was full of love; which was the sole principle of all his tempers, thoughts, words, and actions. God is full of justice, mercy, and truth; so was man as he came from the hands of his Creator. God is spotless purity; and so man was in the beginning pure from every sinful blot; otherwise God could not have pronounced him, as well as all the other work of his hands, “very good” (Gen. 1:31) This he could not have been, had he not been pure from sin, and filled with righteousness and true holiness. For there is no medium: If we suppose and intelligent creature not to love God, not to be righteous and holy, we necessarily suppose him not to be good at all; much less to be “very good.” But, although man was made in the image of God, yet he was not made immutable. This would have been inconsistent with the state of trial in which God was pleased to place him. He was therefore created able to stand, and yet liable to fall. And this God himself apprized him of, and gave him a solemn warning against it. Nevertheless, man did not abide in honor: He fell from his high estate. He “ate of the tree whereof the Lord had commanded him, you shalt not eat of it.” By this willful act of disobedience to his Creator, this rebellion against his Sovereign, he openly declared that he would no longer have God to rule over him; That he would be governed by his own will, and not the will of Him that created him; and that he would not seek his happiness in God, but in the world, in the works of his hands. Now, God had told him before, “In the day that you eat” of that fruit, “you will surely die.” And the word of the Lord cannot be broken. Accordingly, in that day he did die: He died to God, — the most dreadful of all deaths. He lost the life of God: He was separated from Him, in union with whom his spiritual life consisted. The body dies when it is separated from the soul; the soul, when it is separated from God. But this separation from God, Adam sustained in the day, the hour, he ate of the forbidden fruit. And of this he gave immediate proof; presently showing by his behavior, that the love of God was extinguished in his soul, which was now “alienated from the life of God.” Instead of this, he was now under the power of servile fear, so that he fled from the presence of the Lord. Yea, so little did he retain even of the knowledge of Him who fills heaven and earth, that he endeavored to “hide himself from the Lord God among the trees of the garden:” (Gen. 3:8)  So had he lost both the knowledge and the love of God, without which the image of God could not subsist. Of this, therefore, he was deprived at the same time, and became unholy as well as unhappy. In the room of this, he had sunk into pride and self-will, the very image of the devil; and into sensual appetites and desires, the image of the beasts that perish.

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