Tag Archives: thanksgiving

Stop and Think About the Bible

torahPsalm 111 

1   Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
    Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
    Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever. 

I remember a moment when my emotions threatened me, and I had spent a lifetime at their mercy. Then I remembered that Jesus promised to go with me everywhere. I prayed, “Lord Jesus, you took all my sins on the cross. Can you please take this mindless anger, too?” He did. That was a great work. When was the last time something difficult and dark reminded you how great God’s work is?

    He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.

How did the Bible come to us? Why did it survive centuries, even millennia, of enemies and opportunity to be lost? When a secular thinker picks at the Bible or tries to threaten it with some recently discovered artifact, how do you stand firm for its value?

In countries where Christians are persecuted by both government and the culture, Christians cling to the Bible, or any part of the Bible. Why do they feel that way about this book?

    He provides food for those who fear him;
he remembers his covenant forever.
    He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the inheritance of the nations. 

Contemporary political rhetoric accuses “rich” people of being the reason that “poor” people don’t have everything they need. This rhetoric entices people to turn to the government for rectification of wrongs and for provision of all their needs. Where does the Bible tell people to turn? Political leaders of every stripe come and go with the winds of time. Where can people find unchanging truth in someone who never forgets or takes back his promises?

The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy;
    they are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
    He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.  

Social activism and political campaigns always agitate for evolved concepts. Activists look at history and declare that things that were determined to be just in the past are no longer just. Morality and justice must change with the times. What does God say?

Everyone bears a burden knowing that it is true that people do not love one another perfectly. What is God’s answer to that burden? How do the targets of injustice and persecution ever make peace with their past? What about the perpetrators?

10    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!

The world is confusing and even frightening. How can anyone ever make his way forward with confidence and courage?

 

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Torah Scroll
Source: http://library.duke.edu/exhibits/hebrewbible/torah.html
License: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

 

Advertisements

A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollO LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. Isaiah 25:1 ESV

  • Do you praise God every morning before you ask God for help? If not, can you stop right now and praise him? Borrow Isaiah’s words if necessary.
  • What wonderful things has God done in your life this week?
  • How do you know that God makes plans and brings them to fruition? What has God done in your life that demonstrates his plans for you that bless you and fulfill your highest aspirations?
  • If someone who doubts God’s existence or his authority had told Isaiah that his faith was worthless, how would Isaiah answer? How will you answer when someone says the same thing to you?

Reflection on Psalm 22

Psalm 22 is a beloved psalm that is best known for its first line, quoted in agony by Christ on the cross: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” It is so commonly read during the season of Lent that the very mention of Psalm 22 any other time almost feels strange. Yet the appointed psalm for the most recent Sunday past was Psalm 22, but the reading came from the last half of the psalm, verses 19-28. Taken by themselves, especially if the reader completely blanks out all the associations with the early verses of the psalm, the text for this week stands alone artistically and thematically. Christians who feel threatened by secular scorn for the very idea of trying to live faithful lives in a culture that simultaneously turns a blind eye to the malevolent teachings of Islam will find strength, inspiration, and real encouragement in these verses from the second half of Psalm 22.

In order to see the psalm with fresh eyes, it is a good idea to read an unfamiliar translation. One of the finest scholars of Hebrew language and literature is Robert Alter. His translation of Psalm 22:19-28 is below:

19 But You, O Lord, be not far.                 My strength, to my aid O hasten!

20  Save from the sword my life,                 from the cur’s power my person.

21  Rescue me from the lion’s mouth.

                And from the horns of the ram You answered me.

22  Let me tell Your name to my brothers,                 in the assembly let me praise You. 23  Fearers of the Lord, O praise Him!                 All the seed of Jacob revere Him!                                             And be afraid of him, all Israel’s seed! 24  For He has not spurned nor has despised                 the affliction of the lowly, and has not hidden His face from him,                 when he cried out to Him, He heard. 25  For You—my praise in the great assembly.                 My vows I fulfill before those who fear Him. 26  The lowly will eat and be sated.                 Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.                                 May you be of good cheer forever. 27  All the far ends of earth will remember                 And turn to the Lord. All the clans of the nations                 will bow down before you. 28  For the Lord’s is the kingship–                 and He rules over the nations. (Alter, 2007)

This reading falls naturally into two parts, and the two parts are linked by a poignant statement:  “from the horns of the ram You answered me.”  (Verse 21b) In many, many translations, perhaps all of them but this one, the word Robert Alter translated “ram” is translated “wild oxen.” A look under the covers at the Hebrew word reveals that oxen, rams and even unicorns could be indicated by this word. Given the flow of the psalm, it is peculiar that none of the major translations saw here what Alter saw, the horn of the ram, the horn used to make the musical instrument the shofar. It is the shofar which is used in Jewish tradition as a call to prayer, and that is the key to understanding this text.

Verses 19-21a constitute a cry for help from someone under severe duress. The psalmist cries out, “Hurry! Help me! Save me!” He is threatened by the sword, by feral dogs, and by the open mouth of a lion. His prayer is beyond urgent; it is desperate.

Breathless and exhausted, frenzied and utterly hopeless, the psalmist hears the clear, plaintive sound of the shofar. Jewish tradition surrounding the making of a shofar is quite strict, in order to assure that the sound is consistent and natural. The poet who wrote this psalm would not confuse the sound of the shofar with any other sound. It is a beautiful image – the beleaguered man running for his life from fierce and evil enemies, stopped in his tracks by the sound of the shofar. The runner, still panting from both fear and exertion, silently and reverently listens to God’s call to worship

He turns away from his panicked efforts to save himself and to persuade God to help him. He turns to a place best described in the book of Revelation. The psalmist finds himself in the very presence of God enthroned in his glory in heaven. The “horns of the ram” carry the reader, too, out of the chaos of persecution and pursuit to a worshipful sanctuary where fervent worship is under way.

Pursued relentlessly by evil, the intended victim pushes back against evil by engaging in the great subversive act of worship. Praise, testimony and feasting with the Lord drown out evils shrieks and the heavy footfalls of approaching enemies. Instead, the evil ones shrink away from the glory of the Lord and the power of the prayers and testimony of the faithful.

What is the content of the testimony?

  • ·         God’s name, reverently and gratefully spoken
  • ·         Praise shouts – Praise him! Revere him! Fear him!
  • ·         Remembrance and performance of vows to the Lord
  • ·         Call to the whole world to honor God

And in the midst of it all, a meal that is a testimony to God’s goodness, just as the Lord’s Supper is a testimony to Christ and his goodness.

The reading then flows smoothly into concluding verses that continue the theme of worship that keeps evil at bay.

The psalm is a grand exposition of the same concept that permeates the book of Revelation – evil cannot defeat someone fully engaged in worship of God Almighty. Even petitions and intercessions asking for help are only part of the worship expression of our complete dependence on God. Apart from our praise and thanksgiving our petitions for help sound whiny. Embedded in our whole-body worship, which one pastor called “bragging on God” they become part of our testimony that God keeps his promises and never abandons his own. Our testimony to what God has done provides the structure behind our petitions to the one who can help us, the one who wants to help us. Our petitions actually express our faith which leads to worship that emboldens us to cry out our petitions and intercessions. We don’t test God with requests so he can earn our faith by answering them; we come to him in faith and worship, and in that attitude of trust, we make our pleas.

When you hear a political speech in which the argument intended to persuade you to believe the speaker is completely without any logical coherence,  when you file a claim for insurance because someone struck your car, only to discover when the dust settles that you have somehow been ruled to be liable for the damage to the other person, when discover that you are accountable for compliance with a law so convoluted that nobody can tell you how to comply, you can feel completely vulnerable and threatened. When the culture around you changes so dramatically that you no longer feel at home in your home town, it can feel like stray dogs snapping at your ankles. When you feel the world closing in on you, it is easy to despair. The psalmist knew how that felt, and he knew that this is the time you need to hear the shofar. You need to hear God’s voice above the chaos. You need to see God on his throne in the heavens, and rather than whine and cry, you need to join in worship. No matter how bad things are, it is always the right time to worship God on his throne. Praise him. Thank him. Remember his marvelous works. Worship is the great subversive act that pushes back against evil. Then, with evil at bay, standing strong in your faith, make your petitions. The psalmist says that you can count on the Almighty to win this war. He will defeat evil. “The Lord’s is the kingship–and He rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:28)

A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollSing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.  Psalm 30:4

  • The author of this psalm had just recovered from a dire illness. Have you ever experienced a moment when if not near death you felt imminently threatened by it? How did you feel after you recovered?
  • Sometimes people who have experienced terror or terrible pain feel that they have grown stronger because of it. Read Psalm 30:1-3, the text preceding this verse. How did the psalmist feel about his recovery?
  • Read the following text, Psalm 30:5-10. The psalmist provides a little history of his problem. When you read, “I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved,” what words come to mind? What was the psalmist’s attitude when everything appeared to be going his way?
  • Read Psalm 30:11-12, the closing verses. What changed after the psalmist experienced God’s intervention in his life in a dark and dangerous emergency?
  • Secular thinkers believe they do not need any god when they have trouble. They believe that human beings can take care of themselves and don’t need any “ghost stories” to help them. What would the psalmist say in response to that attitude?

A Hymn For Meditation

Praise the Lord! O Heavens Adore Him 

Praise the Lord! O heavens adore him;
Praise him angels, in the height;
Sun and moon, rejoice before him;
Praise him, gleaming stars and light.
Praise the Lord, for he has spoken;
Worlds his mighty voice obeyed;
Laws which never shall be broken
For their guidance he has made.

 Praise the Lord, for he is gracious;
Never shall his promise fail.
God has made his saints victorious;
Sin and death shall not prevail.
Praise the God of our salvation;
Hosts on high, his power proclaim;
Heaven and earth, and all creation,
Laud and magnify his name.
      Foundling Hospital Collection

 Note: The Foundling Hospital was established to care for children whose parents were almost always unknown. The children were abandoned on doorsteps or found wandering through slums alone. The word “hospital” had a broader meaning than our perception of temporary, intense medical care. We would more likely call it an orphanage. This hymn was part of a collection published as a fund-raising project for the institution.

  • This hymn evokes praise to be sung by children who never knew their parents and whose lives even in the Foundling Hospital were not pleasant by twenty-first century standards. Why should they praise the Lord?
  • Have you ever observed a scene in which all nature appeared to be praising God, as this writer saw it?
  • Why should we be comforted to hear that God’s laws of nature cannot be broken? What does that say about the ability of human beings to destroy what God has created?
  • The hymn names two great enemies of human beings and asserts that they will not prevail in our lives. What are they, and why does the hymnwriter believe they cannot overpower us?
  • To what promise of God do the words, “never shall his promise fail” refer?
  • Have you ever known someone whose good name was destroyed either by himself or by the deliberate destructive words of others? Think of that situation, and then think about the way we speak of God. What exactly does the hymnwriter mean by inviting us to “laud and magnify” the name of God.