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. 

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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.