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 #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!

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created by me with the Rhonna Designs app for iPhone

2015 Verse of the Week #42: Psalm 20:7

Finally over that cold! But I gave myself last Monday off from sharing my verse of the week. I was not only sick, but traveled 700+ miles with my husband to a middle school ministry workers’ conference which, while wonderful/encouraging/refreshing/inspiring, completely sucked the life out of this introvert. It was an entire weekend of people-time! Once the event was over we drove a few short hours to see my family in Tennessee, which was a special trip because my grandma was there visiting my parents and sister for a month. I enjoyed resting in safe fellowship with my family in the familiar place where I spent the majority of my growing-up years. There was eating, chatting, laughing, and even some shopping. Sidewalks were strolled upon. Backroads were driven. I was “home,” and now I am back.

I figure if anyone is following along and missed the verse last Monday they could have easily used the track list from Seeds Family Worship to find “God is Unchanging” on the album The Character of God. That song goes along with Hebrews 13:8 which says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” I pinned a cute image for it to my Verse of the Week pin board, FYI. It was in a Tennessee home studio some 15-odd years ago that I committed this verse to memory… for money. I sang on an album of memory verses– from the King James, no less– with a few other young people. From that session I can recall the verse from Hebrews along with Romans 12:1, although any other verses we recorded have since faded from memory. Maybe those two songs took us the longest? If you want to memorize a verse forever, singing it a few dozen times in a row with the words on a music stand in front of you and someone modeling how he wants it to sound after each take will do the trick!

This week’s verse is the final track of The Character of God. It’s called “We Trust” and can be found in Psalm 20:7.

Psalm 20:7

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

 

I love that this verse is the last song on the album for a couple of reasons. First, a reasonable response to learning about God’s character is to trust him with our hearts, our feelings, our futures, and all aspects of our lives. Over the past 10 weeks the Scriptural passages I have looked at from The Character of God have pointed to God as Creator, Holy, Love, Light, Spirit and Truth, Wise, Faithful, Everlasting, Jealous, and Unchanging. While not entirely all-encompassing, this is an awesome list that I think does a great job of highlighting the most important facets of God’s character that have been revealed to us in Scripture. If we believe that God is all of those things, it only makes sense to trust him above anything else.

The second reason I love the choice of this verse on the album is that the name of the Lord actually carries with it descriptions of his character and deeds. This is something I learned yesterday in church when, as usual, I thanked God that my pastor reads all (and I do mean ALL) of the books so I don’t have to. 😉 He pointed to the time when Moses very boldly asked something of God: to show his glory to Moses. I love that story (found in Exodus 33 and 34) and enjoyed studying about it last year at Bible Study Fellowship. But the thought of the Scriptural term “the name of the Lord” actually referring to his nature and deeds did not crystallize for me until yesterday. God said he would come to Moses in all his goodness and declare his name to him, although God would not appear in all his glory because he needed Moses to stick around and lead the people (“you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” Ex. 33:20). God descended in a cloud, shielded Moses, and caused the glory of his goodness to pass by as he declared his name: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Ex. 34:6-7)

God does not describe himself in one word or name, but by telling about his nature and his deeds (which prove his nature). Once these thoughts connected in my mind, I though of another verse: The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10). I’ve heard that verse many times throughout my life and thought it was just another poetic thing to say the name of the Lord is strong rather than just saying God is strong. But the words mean more than that: the sum of all of God’s parts equals a trustworthy and strong refuge for all who seek the Lord.

I want to say one more thing about Psalm 20:7. As I was listening to the song and working on the chalk lettering I noticed that there is a bit of an “us vs. them” mentality to the words upon an initial, surface reading of the verse. While there is some truth to that because some trust in God and some do not, it would be inconsistent with the character of God for the Christian to allow a feeling of superiority to take root from reading this verse. Even the faith it requires to trust God is a gift from God himself, and the other effects of trusting his “name” are also gifts– undeserved ones. It is not the ability of the believer, but the subject of our belief that allows us to trust in the name of the Lord our God who is Creator, Holy, Love, Light, Spirit and Truth, Wise, Faithful, Everlasting, Jealous, Unchanging, and more. Those who have accepted the free gift of salvation by Christ’s sacrifice can experience communion with God as he reveals himself to us by his Spirit through his Word, prayer, and fellowship with other believers.

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This is my own image, taken in my home. It’s a little blurry because I had to take a panorama to fit the whole thing in the picture!

 

2015 Verse of the Week #19: James 1:17

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My 19th verse of the year is James 1:17. I love, love, LOVE the Seeds Family Worship song for this verse, “Heavenly Lights,” which is track 6 on “The Power of Encouragement.” I have a special attachment to this verse because it was one of my preschoolers’ favorite songs, and I had them perform it at graduation and as I watched them (and mouthed the words for them) I cried from all the adorableness. It was more than simply adorable, which I’ll get to, but first I should share the verse. The image above is from my Bible app, which I have set to the ESV translation. I think the 1984 NIV is easier to memorize, though, and that is the version used in the Seeds song, so here it is:

James 1:17

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

My challenge today will be getting through this post without crying, because I can’t help but think of two different classes of 3- and 4-year-olds shout-singing these words while smiling, looking around at their peers, and doing motions. I am also preparing to attend preschool graduation tonight, and will be saying goodbye to the little ones I was blessed to spend a few months with as a substitute helper in their class. Preschoolers typically prefer more rowdy fare for their action songs, and while there is some rocking guitar during the chorus of this song, it’s definitely on the mellow side overall. So I was always surprised that my munchkins loved it so much. But should I have been?

As I pondered this verse from a grown-up perspective I felt like maybe I taught it to my kids out of context. It sounds very nice and happy: God, our father and creator, gives us good gifts. And this is true (look up Matthew 7:11 for a start). But the verses preceding 17 are about temptation and the results of sin, and the first part of the chapter is about enduring the difficulties of life. Chapter 1 of the book of James opens with that classic pick-me-up, “count it all joy, brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (verse 2).

That opening may sound like a downer on the surface, but this first portion of James 1 is actually quite encouraging, full of assurance and truth and affirmation. Verses 2-6 are particularly rich, and verse 12 boldly affirms God’s heavenly reward for those who trust and follow him. James also wanted us to know that God does not tempt us. And his reasoning behind the statement is that God cannot himself be tempted by evil (13), and when humans are tempted it is by our own evil desires (14). Verse 17 confirms that God is unchanging and gives good gifts. To put it all together, he would not lure us to evil because that would contradict his intrinsically, naturally, permanent and unchanging good nature.

When I taught this song, maybe I did disregard some of the context. And maybe when I try to dig really deep into the context of the passage, my brain hurts a little bit. I don’t fully understand the placement of this verse and all of what it means past what I have shared above. But despite my lack of understanding, I latch onto it just as my little preschoolers did. Why is that?

I believe this attraction is due to the power of God and his Word. I believe that the human authors of the Bible were guided by God’s Holy Spirit in their writing, and that his Spirit also guides our reading of the Word. James 1:17 not only contains powerful truths about God, but it is also written beautifully, and something about the beauty of the words is conveyed to our hearts by the Spirit. This is such a beautiful and unmerited gift from God to us, and now I have failed my “no crying” challenge. 😉

There is something about the Word of God that draws us to Him. That something is actually someone, or God’s very Spirit. So even if we’re 3 years old (or 31 years old) and don’t feel like we fully understand the theological implications of a verse, it can speak to our hearts. This is the uncontainable, unstoppable, unchanging power of God. He does not change like shifting shadows. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8, Mal. 3:6, Ps. 90:2). He acts out of his everlasting nature of love and righteousness, and his desire is for every person to choose to be reconciled to him through Jesus (John 3:16-17, Acts 17:27).

Sometimes we may “feel” a verse before we fully understand it. And that is alright! God knows our limitations- that’s why we need salvation, and were given a perfect Helper in the form of the Spirit to guide us as we seek to know God better. I would love to hear from you– how does this verse or passage encourage you? Do you have any experience with being drawn to a verse even if you don’t fully understand it?

2015 Verse of the Week #18: Mark 9:35

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Verse #18 of 2015 is Mark 9:35. The Seeds Family Worship song is called “Servant of All,” track 6 on “The Power of Encouragement.” It is a super fun song! I have fond memories of my preschoolers dancing around with air instruments to this one when I was teaching my own small class. Seeds uses the 1984 NIV which is different from the updated NIV, and I like the ESV (which my church uses) so that is what I’ve included here.

Mark 9:35

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

This statement from Jesus is so foundational to his earthly and eternal character, to our understanding of the character of God, and to our understanding of the gospel in our lives as Christians. Jesus’ serving others was one of the ways he showed that he was the Messiah and set an example for us to follow (Phil. 2:7).

Earlier in Mark 9, we are told of the transfiguration (2-13), at which point I have to assume that Peter, James, and John knew Jesus was the Son of God; and the story following the transfiguration details Jesus’ casting out a demon that the disciples had failed to cast out earlier (13-29). In verses 30-37 (which contains my memory verse, 35), Jesus speaks with his followers and predicts his death a second time and gives further evidence of his being one with God the Father.

Jesus shows his omniscience by speaking to something the disciples wouldn’t tell him about: that they had been arguing about who was “the greatest” in their group (33-34). Again, they have missed the point entirely, but Jesus takes the opportunity to lead them back to the real point (which is the classic Sunday School answer: God). He tells them that if they want to be first, they must be last, and a servant of all (35).

I don’t think Jesus was saying that the way to win and be the first or best is to do our time by humbling ourselves and serving others; it’s not a means to an end kind of thing. Or just not the means to the end the disciples were thinking about. Certainly, Scripture tells us that those who put others before themselves will be rewarded, but again that is not the main point. God is first! God is all! His glory is the goal.

So in the process of serving others we should lose our initial desire to be first or raise our status or be above others at all as we become aware of our humble position in comparison to God’s holiness, and we recognize the importance of elevating the truth of who God is for all to see and believe.

With Mother’s Day coming up, I can’t help but think of a mother’s sacrificial love when I read this passage. My own mother lives a life of putting others before herself, and I have had the privilege of knowing many other mothers who live this way, specifically my grandmother and my mother-in-law, but also countless other ladies who were and are part of my church life. This love lived out is a great example, and it doesn’t take great wisdom to recognize this- we all know we need to thank our mothers for everything they have done and continue to do for us.

Even in preschool last week as we asked the kids about their moms for a special Mother’s Day gift, we heard the most precious responses. The words of these children revealed the service and sacrifice of their mothers. Many of them said, “She plays with me,” or “She gives me food,” which may seem like simple things but are sacrifices of time, effort, money, and planning. The sweetest thing I heard by far was when I asked a little girl what her mom does that makes her happy. She said, “She thinks about me.” That is being a servant: thinking of others first.

So my first encouragement is to put a little thought into how you will thank your mother (or grandmother, or “other mother”) for thinking about you! Then, put some thought into how you will serve others through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, available to us because of Jesus’ perfect life and sacrifice. We do not do this on our own, but through him and for him, so we can acknowledge that HE is first.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this verse, on mothers, on this passage in Mark, or whatever comes to mind from reading this post. Thanks for reading.