Tag Archives: gratefulness

A Hymn for Meditation

hymnalAmazing Grace

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found;
was blind but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed.

The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come.
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
and grace will lead me home.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
bright shining as the sun
we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
than when we first begun.

By John Newton

In lexicons exploring the original biblical languages, the Greek word usually translated “grace” in the New Testament often corresponds to the Old Testament word for “God’s unmerited favor.” If you thought of the word “grace” in this song as “God’s unmerited favor” how would it change your understanding of the song?

If you were baptized as a baby and then confirmed in your teens, do you remember any time when you felt lost or disconnected from your faith? If yes, then what turned that experience around?

If you received Christ by your own deliberate choice as a child or an adult, what motivated you? What is the difference in your view of your life before that moment and afterward?

What sorts of dangers or embarrassments have you experienced because someone discovered that you are a Christian? What do you do when you realize that you feel afraid to tell anyone that you are a Christian?

Verse 3 is a testimony to the hymnwriter’s confidence in God. How would you state your confidence in your own words? Has anyone ever asked you why you believe what you believe? If so, how did you answer?

Secularists believe that God cannot possibly exist because they cannot see or touch him. How would you explain to a secularist how you know with certainty that God loves you?

A Verse for Meditation

I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.                                              Psalm 146:2

  •  Every day the news brings us more reminders of disaster and tragedy in the world. How are we supposed to praise God in the midst of such misery?
  • We know that David’s life was no picnic, and it is unlikely that any other psalm writer had a life of never-ending ease. How did this writer motivate all that praise?
  • When I am in the midst of deep pain myself, does God even expect me to praise him?
  • The book of Revelation describes myriads and myriads of angels and people praising God for eternity. Is that what this writer means? Is that something I should actually look forward to? Is that all heaven is?

A Hymn for Meditation

 For the Beauty of the Earth

For the beauty of the earth
For the beauty of the earth (Photo credit: Ben Bawden)

For the beauty of the earth,
for the beauty of the skies,

for the love which
from our birth
over and around us lies;
Christ, our God, to thee we raise
this our sacrifice of praise.

 For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,

friends on earth
and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts
and mild.
Christ, our God, to thee we raise
this our sacrifice of praise.

 For each perfect gift of thine,
peace on earth and joy in heaven.
For thyself, best gift divine,
to our world so freely given.

Christ, our God, to thee we raise
this our sacrifice of praise.

                      Folliott S. Pierpoint

 Questions for thought and prayer:

  •  At the end of each verse, you sing the words “sacrifice of praise.” Do you think it is a sacrifice to give praise to God? If ”sacrifice” means to surrender something that you might really want to keep, what are you sacrificing when you praise God?
  • The hymnwriter speaks of humans being immersed in love from the moment of birth. What does he mean? Do you agree with him? Why, or why not?
  • The third verse offers praise for “peace on earth,” recalling the promise of the angels when Jesus was born. Is there peace on earth? Where? Who has peace? Can there be peace on earth when nations are at war?
  • Even if you don’t write poetry, what would you include in a fourth verse to this hymn?

© 2012 Katherine Harms





What’s the Truth Here?

Jesus casting out the money changers from the ...
Image via Wikipedia

Sunday’s readings

Exodus 20:1-17

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

All four gospel writers describe the day that Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. He was like a whirlwind roaring through, overturning tables and scattering coins everywhere, driving out animals and people in his fury. When we remember that Jesus truly is God in the person of the Son, we know where this fury came from. It takes us back to the wilderness trek of Israel, when God first explained to them what he expected of them. The wilderness is the place where we can put the cleansing of the temple in its right perspective.

In the wilderness, God told the people what sort of sacrifice he expected. Any animal or any fruits of harvest given over to God as a sacrifice was to be the best of all. Over and over he emphasized that gifts to God should be unblemished, perfect in every way. In the temple of Jesus’ day, vendors sold blind, lame, pathetic animals that were the rejects they could not sell elsewhere. Moneylenders who were there to serve people of all nationalities and convert their many different forms of money to coins acceptable for shopping in the temple routinely gouged their customers in the rates and fees for money exchange. As a consequence, every worshiper who did not arrive with his own perfect animal ready for sacrifice was subjected to the untender mercies of vendors and moneylenders who cheated the customers and cheated God. It is said by some commentators that temple inspectors collaborated in the whole scheme by ruling that perfect animals brought from home had defects and must be replaced by animals bought within the temple grounds. The offerings were lies to God as a result of the people lying to themselves. The temple had become a place to celebrate big lies and scorn for both God and people.

Jesus, God incarnate, took action to show what a fraud the whole operation was. His action, taking place shortly before he himself became the only perfect sacrifice for the sins of humankind, highlights what a complete lie the whole worship experience had become. Every worshiper had become part of a scene that honored neither God nor man. Jesus’ action said with great clarity that God hates lies and he hates fraud and he hates the behaviors that sustain such attitudes.

When Jesus cleansed the temple, he was preparing it for the day when the curtain that hid the Holy of Holies would be ripped from top to bottom, the day Jesus himself was sacrificed on the cross. Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and on the day of the cleansing, he acted as purifying truth to cleanse the temple and ready it for the one true sacrifice that would wipe away the sin of all humankind.

This is the truth celebrated in today’s psalm. This is the truth revealed in God’s law. The psalmist knew about that truth. He wrote that God’s law is the revealed truth that the heavens wordlessly sing about day and night. God’s law, which is often viewed as restrictive and oppressive, is revealed by the psalmist and by Jesus’ work of cleansing the temple to be liberating and fulfilling.

Some people have great difficulty “finding” any money to give to God as an offering when they worship. The lesson of the temple cleansing, pointing back to the lessons of Israel’s wilderness days, is that our gifts to God come first. They are the most special gifts we give to anyone for any reason. Our gifts to God must be our first fruits, our most perfect, our free gifts of love and gratefulness. We deny the blessing and mercy of God in our lives when we begrudge him our best.

This is the reason that we must give in gratefulness and love, not out of any sense of obligation. There were, no doubt, individuals who were sickened by the deceitful marketplace the temple had become in Jesus’ day, but their anguish was completely overwhelmed by the power of those who thought of worship as an opportunity to enrich themselves. They had no respect for God, and they caused even faithful worshipers to sink beneath their bad attitudes. There were almost certainly faithful believers who refused to have anything to do with the temple because of this problem.

We can be thankful that this story is in the gospel. It is a reminder first that Christ supplanted all the sacrifices ever burned in that temple by being the perfect sacrifice no animal ever could be. Beyond that, it is also a reminder that we never fool God when we give him less than our best, when we give him only our leftovers. Jesus is the way God tells us that we are so important to him that he gave his best for us. This gift demands that we give only our best to him.

What’s in it for Me?

Joshua 5:10-7:26

My husband and I don’t wear big signs that say “Christian,” but we don’t keep it a secret, We believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, and when we feel that He is guiding the conversation, we invite people to church. We get a lot of different reactions, but the most common is something like this: “I really like to go to a church if I get something out of it. I used to go to church a lot, but then I realized one day that I wasn’t getting anything out of it, so I quit.” I wouldn’t belittle this reaction to church attendance, but it is hard to know what to say. The problem is that we don’t think of church as something we do in order to get something. Our participation in church is much more about loving service and obedience to God’s call. When we attend, we are inspired, and we do learn things. But the real point of attending worship is to worship. In fact, the word “liturgy” is derived from Greek words, leit- people + ergon work, which is to say that liturgy is the work of the people. Worship derives from Old English roots that mean “to ascribe worth to.” It would be right to say that Handel’s “Worthy is the Lamb” is the apotheosis of liturgical worship.

The story of the arrival of the wilderness-weary Israelites in the Promised Land is a story that puts a fine point on the question of what we get out of knowing God. At the beginning of the passage listed above (Joshua 5:10-7:26), the Israelites eat the Passover in the new land, and that is the end of manna. For the first time in forty years, they eat fresh fruits and vegetables, the produce of the Promised Land. Manna had been a gift when they first began to eat it, but the Bible records that the Israelites wearied of it. The generation that entered the Promised Land behind Joshua had never eaten anything but manna. Can you imagine their delight the first time they bit into a peach? They probably thought this moment was evidence from God that there was something for them in following him.

These events took place at Gilgal, their staging point for the coming attack on Jericho. Joshua 5:13-15 describes something even more marvelous. Joshua had been out spying out the ground for the attack on Jericho. As he stood contemplating the battle, he saw a man who said, “The place where you stand is holy.” This explains a lot about the battle for the Promised Land. If you recall, this is the land God promised to Abraham generations before. This is the land from which Joseph was taken to Egypt, where Israelites lived for 400 years before Moses came to lead them back to the Promised Land. How could God promise this land to Abraham? How could he promise it to the Israelites? There were people living on the land before Abraham, and there were people living on the land when the Egyptian escapees arrived there. Where do they get off claiming that God can give them this land?

The man who spoke with Joshua gives us the answer: the land belongs to God. It always belonged to God. In fact, if you read the Bible carefully, you soon discover that in God’s economy, all the land belongs to him, as well as the cattle that graze upon it and the whales that swim in its oceans. When the man who met Joshua told him that the spot where he stood was holy, it could have been any place. There is a big lesson in this little story. James summed up this lesson beautifully when he wrote, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17, the eloquent and beautiful King James Version) The lesson is that all that we have and all that we are is the gift of our gracious God. We owe him thanksgiving and grateful stewardship of all that we receive.

This little story puts the big story of the conquest of Jericho in proper context. The marching, the trumpets, the wall that came tumbling down. The bloody destruction of men and women, children, animals, all living things within the walls except for Rahab and her family. The scruffy desert wanderers who had just arrived in Canaan defeated a powerful center of commerce surrounded by a high, thick wall, designed to repel real armies, not families marching around and singing praise to God. The people were full of excitement and delight. Everything looked good. God was working things out to their advantage. It appeared that they would get something out of all the misery they had endured since leaving Egypt after all.

One man wasn’t satisfied with the ego trip, however. He wanted something he could hold in his hands. I see that in dissatisfied church-goers, too. People come to my church, and they participate in a colorful and aesthetically pleasing liturgy, but they go away without “feeling” anything. They are not promised anything, but rather, they are urged to go forth and give service. There doesn’t seem to be anything in it for them. It isn’t at all like the churches where people are told that faithful Christian living will be rewarded with good jobs, comfortable houses and plenty of food for their children. It isn’t like the teleseminars that promise you that the universe wants you to have whatever you really want if you just get in synch and make your desires clear. They feel like Achan, who looked at all the “stuff” being gathered up for the Lord’s treasury and wondered where his share was. God could surely spare a little something for Achan. Didn’t God have enough already?

We are all tempted by this logic, and never more than in contemporary culture. The “Occupy” movement is all about a feeling that somebody else, be it God or man, has more than he “needs” and I have less than I “need.” It is all about my right to decide what is enough for someone else, even God. It is all about my right to judge what others have as if their possessions exist only because I have been shortchanged. Maybe Achan thought he actually needed the things he stashed out of sight of whoever was managing the Lord’s treasury that day. Or maybe he really thought God had no right to keep all the treasure for himself. Maybe Achan thought God was being profoundly unfair to everybody, so Achan said something like, he who helpeth not himself, the same he shall not be holpen.

The root of Achan’s problem is the root of most human discontent. Achan failed to recognize that all the wonderful things, all the land, all the animals, all the people, belonged to God already. The Israelites were conquering Jericho as God’s servants, and they were asked to demonstrate their stewardship of God’s gifts first. If you have read the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, you have read the references to the “firstfruits.” The birth of an animal, the beginning of harvest, even the firstborn child, was all dedicated to God. The firstfruits were to be put in God’s treasury or else redeemed. God claimed Jericho as a firstfruit of the blessing of a homeland for the Israelites, and Achan ignored God’s righteous claim, because he wanted something for himself.

We are all guilty of the same thing. The people who put it into words are not worse than the rest of us; they are exactly like us. We all want rewards and privilege and possessions. The “Occupy” movement is just like the rest of us. When we are honest, we know that we all must grapple with envy, jealousy and covetous hearts. No matter how satisfied we are on most days, we all have our moments when we wonder why God didn’t give us the same benefits as somebody else. (I won’t say “everybody else” because we all know that the number of people in the world who have less than the 99% in the US is astronomical.)

I hear a lot of people say that the Old Testament is out of touch with reality, but I don’t believe it. The Old Testament is more real than most reality TV. Those folks were genuine scoundrels. They were just like the scoundrels in the news. Criminals, celebrities, politicians, scheming businessmen – they are all there, and much, much more. The story of Achan is quite real and down to earth. Any of us could be Achan, because any of us could be Eve. Satan was there, whispering in Achan’s ear, just as he whispered in Eve’s ear, “Did God say …?” The lesson of Achan is not implacable, ruthless justice in the name of God. The justice administered that day was simply the way justice was administered in that era. The truth of Achan is timeless, and we do well to listen to it. 

Every wild animal of the forest is mine,

the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know all the birds of the air,

and all that moves in the field is mine.

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the world and all that is in it is mine.


Psalm 50:10-12

We are blessed with God’s grace and presence in our lives. We are gifted with God’s abundant generosity, and our responsibility is simply grateful stewardship of those gifts. God’s goodness is not focused on our personal gratification, but rather on the provision of all that we need according to his purposes. What’s in it for me? The presence and power of the Most High God in my everyday life. That’s what.