2015 Verse of the Week #52: Psalm 46:10

Here it is, my 52nd and final verse for my 2015 verse-a-week challenge. Looking back, it has been an enriching experience to write about each verse (or passage) as I attempt to commit it to memory. I don’t think I did as much as I could to memorize these verses long-term, so I might need to do some printing and flash-card-ing. I don’t think I would do too well on a quiz of all my verses, is what I’m saying. BUT meditating on Scripture is always a worthwhile exercise, and even if the words don’t all stay intact in the mind, the heart is never left unchanged. Almost a year after posting my first memory verse, I do feel different. I place more of a value on meditating on Scripture, looking at it in context, applying it to my circumstances, and sharing it with others. I can also see areas in which I can improve, specifically in the word-retention department. So I will work on that. I don’t think I will repeat this exercise in 2016, although I will be focusing on verses in other ways, but I am so glad I did it this year.

The final song for the final verse is called “Be Still,” which is track 12 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. Here is the verse in the English Standard Version, which is actually the same as the 1984 NIV used for the Seeds song:

Psalm 46:10

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”

This verse is perfect for this week. In my planning ahead I figured it would work well for the end of the year at that quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s. There would be time to reflect and time to look ahead. And that is true, but of course there is more.
The theme of this verse seems to be God’s constant presence, steadfastness, and help in the midst of human conflict or natural disasters. I particularly love verses 1 and 2 from this Psalm:
God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present[b] help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…
Hard things happen in the world and in our lives every year. That’s just the way it is. But at the end of this year, and maybe just today, I’m finding myself weighed down by it on a personal and universal level. Christmas, while joyful, can bring pain with the thought of those who can’t be with us. Remembering loss can make it hard to want to move forward, hard to know how. Also, reminders of the tragedies endured by people around the world are everywhere this time of year. Seeing and hearing those stories can make it hard to imagine better things coming in the new year. Of course there is hope with the start of a new year, and I do still feel that in my heart, but there is a downside to it that I’m noticing today.
During times of grieving over personal loss or over tragedies in our world, I naturally tend toward a couple of different responses (and I don’t think I’m alone in this): one is to distract myself with busy-ness or meaningless things so I don’t feel the sadness, and another is to focus on the sadness and get kind of caught up in it. But these are not fruitful responses, and in this week’s verse God calls us to a better response: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Something came to me in a time of sadness a couple of years ago as I found myself facing doubts about who God is and how he operates. I have to say, this was from the Holy Spirit and not something of my own invention. But I started to test doubtful thoughts or feelings of being upset at God with these questions: 1) Are the things I have known to be true of God still true? And 2) Do my feelings indicate that I am believing something false about God?
Psalm 46:10 does not call us to be still and give in as our minds race with panic over what-ifs. It does not call us to be still and feel hopeless. It does not even call us to be still and empty our minds of thought or our hearts of feeling. No, we are called to be still and know that God is God. In the context of this passage, the character traits of God we are called to know are his deliverance and peace in contrast with the turmoil seen in other nations and in the earth itself. Some of the things said of God in this chapter:
-he is our refuge and strength, ever-present help in trouble
-he causes us not to fear (so he brings peace)
-he makes his people glad (he brings joy)
-he stabilizes us
-he helps us
-he is in control of the earth (he will bring justice)
-he is with us
-he is a fortress for his people
-he is working among the nations on behalf of his people (again, justice)
-he will be exalted among the nations and in the earth (meaning he is worthy of praise by merit of his character and deeds)
I have found that when I ask myself these questions regarding what I believe to be true, worries and hopelessness fade away. Pain may linger, but there is comfort in the truth. If I am feeling like God doesn’t care or is withholding blessing because of something I’ve done, the Word and the Spirit call to my attention the truth of God’s care for me and his many gifts of grace (even if I don’t get what I think I need or deserve).
If I say I believe that God is good, that his love endures forever, that he cares for me, that he works for the good of those who are called according to his purpose, then times of pain or fear or hopelessness are the testing ground for those truths. Because if they are, indeed, true they will bring comfort, peace, wisdom, maturity, understanding, and character (which includes action). But we must take the time to be still before God. Knowing these things about him will not come if we distract ourselves and place our focus on things of this world or creations of our own minds.
I think my favorite set of passages to focus on this year came from Seeds Family Worship’s album The Character of God. These verses and songs would be helpful to meditate on during a time of doubt. For example, if I am feeling like God is withholding something from me, have I begun to believe that God is unfaithful, or unloving, or unwise in his relationship with me? When I boil it down like that it sounds ridiculous, so I come to the logical conclusion that no, I do not believe those things about God. He is faithful to sustain me (1 Cor. 1:8-9), he is love and has love for me (1 John 4:16), and he is wise in all his ways (Rom. 11:33-36). If these things have always been true, and the character of God is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8), and I want to continue to believe and live by these things, then this true God will help me change my perspective so it lines up with his truth. This brings comfort (although not instant pain relief), peace, wisdom, and maturity into my life. And I lather/rinse/repeat with it. 😉
This week my prayer for myself is to know and embrace God’s truth and character as the new year approaches. I pray that I will take time to be still and know who he is, then carry that truth with me as he inspires me to action.
As always, please feel free to share your thoughts on this verse or anything I have shared. And Happy New Year!

This image is the work of artist Ivan Guaderrama. Click the image to see more of his work.

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2015 Verse of the Week #51: Psalm 136:1-6, 26

It’s week 51 of my 2015 verse-a-week challenge. Only one more Monday left in the year! The words from the almost-last-passage of 2015 can be found in the song “His Love Endures,” track 10 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. Here is the verse in the New International Version (here the “new” NIV appears to be the same as the 1984, the translation used by Seeds):

Psalm 136:1-6

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.

Psalm 136:26

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

 Thinking about Scripture around Christmas time usually takes on a different meaning– as it should. I’m looking across the room at twinkly lights and glittery ornaments and wrapped gifts this morning as I listen to words of truth about God in this song. I’ve also started my day with an advent reading which included passages from Genesis, Isaiah, Micah, Galatians, and 1 Peter (from She Reads Truth, which has been an excellent resource for me during the Christmas season).
The immediate connection I see between Psalm 136 and Christmas is that the advent of Jesus is an expression of God’s enduring love. But there is more, of course.
First of all, and this thought doesn’t really “flow” with the rest of what I want to say, but it is worth noting: this psalm was written and would have been read in a corporate setting in a call-and-response format. The priest would have read the instructions for praising and giving thanks and the descriptions of God, and then the congregation would have responded with “His love endures forever.” I mention this because I think it is important not to overlook the corporate part of faith: we were designed to worship together. I see a connection here to Christmas time, a time when we gather together. Our culture makes Christmas gatherings out to be either a harmonious celebration of traditions (Gingerbread! Turkey! Presents!) or a stressful obligation fraught with conflict (Politics! Racism! Judgment!), but among people of faith our Christmas celebrations ought to be filled with love and humility for one another, and acknowledgment of God’s gifts above material things. Not that I’m perfect at this or anything…. but it’s good to have goals! 😉 Anyway…
My reading from 1 Peter this morning comes to mind when I read and hear Psalm 136:5-6 (about God’s creation of heaven and earth). Check it out (ESV translation):

1 Peter 1:20-21

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Jesus is present in the descriptions of God in Psalm 136! Jesus has always been present with God. The same God described in the psalm– he who is good, God and Lord over all, worker of wonders, creator of heaven and earth, he who reigns in heaven in enduring love– this is the God who came to be with us as the Christ.
Yes, he was with us by walking among men on earth, but once he completed his earthly work God again sent himself to be not only with us but within us as the Holy Spirit. According to another one of my readings this morning from Galatians (again, ESV):

Galatians 4:6-7

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

The gift of the Spirit that would eventually be accessible to all who believe was ushered in by the first Christmas. Salvation, life, comfort, guidance, reconciliation with God (and much more) can be ours because of the goodness of the God whose steadfast love endures forever.
We humans have turned Christmas into a frenzied season, a season during which we often end up worshipping our own creations of traditions, gifts, decorations, etc. over the one who really deserves our awe and wonder, the one who really works the “magic” (aka “great wonders, Ps. 136:4) of Christmas.
Because of God’s sending his son as a redemptive gift to the world, we should give him our thanks and worship. That is what Christmas is about. I am praying this morning that my Christmas will be less about celebrating my own personal gain (in the form of presents) or my own accomplishments (like getting presents wrapped and delivered), less about traditions, and more about giving thanks to the God of love who sent his son to the world for me. And for you!
Merry Christmas- only 4 more days until it is here!

from year27.com. This artist, Jill Davis, has a shop that is worth a look. 

2015 Verse of the Week #50: Zephaniah 3:17

I can’t believe I’m on week 50 of my verse of the week! This week’s verse can be found in the song “Mighty to Save,” track 8 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. They use the 1984 NIV, which I really like, and I had a tough time choosing a translation of the verse to post here. I settled for ESV, but thoroughly enjoyed reading all of the different translations of the verse on Bible Gateway. Here is the verse, before I get carried away with translation talk:

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

It seems there are many different ways to translate these words, but the over-arching theme is the same: God is strong to save his people, in whom he takes delight. Some translations leaned more toward a militaristic interpretation of God’s might in the first portion of the verse, and in the latter part of the verse some translations use analogies of a marital relationship to describe God’s love. If you find these things interesting as I do, I would really encourage you to look at some different translations! But enough about that.

Zephaniah is one of those often-overlooked “minor prophet” books. Its 3 chapters occupy a scant three pages of my Bible. But the content is no less important than the longer or more popular books, as it addresses some of the most important themes of the entire Bible: God’s judgment and salvation. Zephaniah’s prophecies apply both to his contemporaries in the kingdom of Judah as well as to future generations. Jesus himself quoted from this book on a couple of occasions (Mathew 13 and 24) when making reference to “the day of the Lord.” Zephaniah has come up a few times already (albeit briefly) in my Bible Study Fellowship study of Revelation due to the similar themes, so I was happy to get to focus on this verse this week.

While this verse is drawn from prophecy regarding the always-mysterious “day of the Lord,” the words can give comfort, lead us to truth about who God is, and even provide certainty in spite of the mystery surrounding end times.

I also love this verse at Christmas time. The advent of Christ is such a huge, important, game-changing part of God’s working to bring his plans and promises to fruition. God judges, but he also saves because he loves.

This verse tells me that God is near, not distant as a judge has the right to be. He is seated on the throne in holy majesty, true, but he simultaneously dwells with his people in Spirit in addition to having sent his Son to walk among men.

This verse tells me that God is victorious and strong.

This verse tells me that God is extravagant, demonstrative, and joyful in his love for his people.

This verse tells me that God is trustworthy.

I haven’t been doing as much of my chalkboard art lately, hence the borrowed images from others for the past several posts– instead I’ve been creating artwork on paper in conjunction with my Advent readings– but I did create a digital image for Zephaniah. Enjoy!

File Dec 14, 9 07 01 AM

created by me with the Rhonna Designs app for iPhone

2015 Verse of the Week #49: 1 Chronicles 16:8-10

This week’s passage can be heard on track 7 on the album Seeds of Praise by Seeds Family Worship. They use the 1984 NIV on the album, which has since been updated. I found that the ESV is actually the same as the old NIV used in the song, so that is the version I’m including here.

1 Chronicles 16:8-10

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
10 Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!

This is a great song, and I have a new memory to go with it. A few weeks ago at preschool I played this song for the children in an effort to stretch my Bible lesson out while our lead teacher was at the store picking up food we had ordered for our Thanksgiving feast. We were learning about David in our Bible lesson, specifically his worship of God through words, music, and dance. I put this song on and told the kids it was perfect for Thanksgiving. Because it isn’t a fast song I said they could dance but needed to be gentle and peaceful and listen to the words so we could sing together. At first they sat and swayed, mostly just watching me as I sang the words, but as they started to pick up the lyrics my sweet little class began to stand up and hold hands with one another in groups of 3 or 4, walking in slow circles. A couple of the little girls got experimental with “ballerina” moves. By the end of the song they were all singing, walking around, holding hands with friends, some lifting their hands or jumping. Once the song had ended we all said, “Thank you, God!” It was a precious moment to see them respond to the Word in a way that made sense to them without specific instruction from me.

The entire chapter of 1 Chronicles 16 is a description of what happened after David brought the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant back to Jerusalem. Verse 8 is the beginning of a song David appointed the Levites to sing as they were ministering before the Ark. The entire song is 28 verses long and worth a read.

With Thanksgiving over, Advent in full swing, and Christmas around the corner, I’m thinking of how I can tie them all together. I have a visual reminder of the things I am thankful for which I have placed in a visible spot, an art journal I am using to record my journey through the She Reads Truth Advent devotionals, and I can see reminders of Christmas everywhere– within my own home and beyond. I like to see Thanksgiving as a time to put the brakes on the quickening pace of life that we start to feel as “the holiday season” approaches. It’s a time to put the focus on what matters most, which for me is the fact that God is the source of everything– not just everything I have, but my life, every person, the earth, and the connections between it all. He is the source of true life– salvation through Christ– and that is where I want my focus to be as Christmas approaches.

This year I’m feeling the pull to be more intentional and thoughtful as Christmas approaches. I know this motivation is from the Spirit, of course, but I’m wondering if my little verse of the week project (also motivated by the Spirit) played a role in tuning my heart toward intentional contemplation. Anyway, with much prayer and after many times of failure, I am finally waking up earlier to have a time of reading and prayer at the beginning of my day. It’s been maybe a year since I’ve done this. And after a few times it wasn’t so difficult anymore; I am now actually excited to get up, read the day’s devotional, and create something artistic from it. It is my hope to continue this early-morning routine into the new year, but whatever happens with that, I’m glad I can have these early morning moments in the days leading up to Christmas.

Speaking of the new year, I have been thinking of how I will structure my blog posts in 2016. The verse of the week definitely helped me create content regularly, but I don’t know if I want to do it again next year. I do know that if I don’t have a plan I will probably only post every few months, but I don’t like that– I need to write and share more frequently than that. I am pretty sure I will share the verse of the month I memorize with my high schoolers at church, but I’d like to continue to post at least once a week. So if you have any ideas, please tell me!

Finally, here is a lovely image I found for this week’s passage.

this image is from duoparadigms.com; if you download it, please download it from their page by clicking on the image to go to their site.