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

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2015 Verse of the Week #47: Isaiah 26:3-4

Time for another verse featured on Seeds Family Worship’s Seeds of Praise. This song is “The Rock Eternal” and is track 5 on the album. Here is the passage from the NIV. (The song uses the 1984 NIV’s he/him while the new NIV below uses they/them. Personally, I’m not such a fan of this change, but what can you do. For my personal Bible study I use the New Living and English Standard versions.)

 Isaiah 26:3-4

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.

With Thanksgiving mere days away, I was almost a little sad to see that my verse this week was not from Psalms and did not explicitly mention giving thanks. However, when I looked up Isaiah 26 in its entirety, I found it is actually titled “A Song of Praise.” That should work! 😉 And, really, anything would have worked because I should be (and am) thankful for all of Scripture.

I am also thankful for the connections the Holy Spirit puts together in the minds of believers. I’m experiencing this today, as I see ideas from last week’s passage (Psalm 100:1-3) plugging in to this week’s passage.

As I read a bit of Isaiah 26 I also found connections to my Revelation study through BSF International, AND, some connections to a talk I heard in October at the Middle School Ministry Campference, delivered by the one-in-a-million Heather Flies. Oh, and Psalm 100 was featured prominently at church yesterday through congregational reading AND in the sermon. Wow! I’d better lay this all out and solidify it before I forget.

So. Last week in Psalm 100 I read that we are God’s people, the sheep of his pasture. I learned at church yesterday that this wording shows God’s care and provision for us. This plugs into Isaiah 26:3 nicely– he keeps us in perfect peace, just as a shepherd does for his sheep. This is where I think of the talk I heard at the Campference. We learned that shepherds would create makeshift pens for their sheep to rest in when the herd got to a stopping place of the shepherd’s choosing. The talk was about waiting well, and my takeaway was: when God (my shepherd) causes me to wait, do I trust that he has me in a good place and rest peacefully trusting him? Can I be satisfied to only move on when he opens the gate? OR, do I fitfully press myself up against the wall of that pen because I’m so focused on what I want to happen next?

Even when it seems like my sheep pen will never open, I want to accept the “perfect peace” given to me by the shepherd. The lesson I’m seeing here is that I sometimes resist what I’ve already been given. I can be like a little sheep in a beautiful meadow, with plenty of room to graze and romp, but I’m pressed up against the wall and bleating for what’s on the other side. My mind can only be steadfast when I trust. Isaiah 26:3-4 contains great reminders to trust in God because he is the giver of these good things like peace, protection, and guidance, so I’m excited to get it memorized.

The last connection (for now anyway) is between Isaiah 26:4 and the books of Daniel and Revelation. The image of a rock is often used to describe God. This image represents strength, protection, safety, and something that exists naturally. We cannot create a rock– it is just there. Many times in Scripture people (like Moses and David) were protected by rocks or caves, and in the story of the Exodus alone there are many different mentions of rocks: they were used for protection (Moses is placed in a cave as God passes by), for provision (water gushes out of the rock), for remembrance of God (altars are set up to remind the people what God did for them). In the book of Daniel, chapter 2, Daniel interprets King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue made up of mixed metals and other natural materials. In Daniel 2:34-35 Daniel tells the king about his dream. He saw that “a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” This points not only to events that would happen after King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign as the Medes, Persians, Greeks and Romans rose and fell in power, but points to God’s eternal kingdom described in Revelation. Maybe it’s a stretch, but when I read “rock” I thought of what I had read just over a week ago about the rock from the king’s dream.

To sum it all up: I can be held in perfect peace, with a steadfast mind, if I will trust God. I can trust God because he is the Rock eternal, plus all of the other things I know about him from his Word, which his Spirit graciously weaves together in my mind at the right times. This is because of his love for me. Thank you, God!

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my own image, edited with Rhonna Designs for iPhone

My final thought is a funny one. When I hear this Seeds song, “Rock Eternal,” I will forever think of a middle schooler who heard this playing in the background at a summer work project and asked me, “Did that just say God is a rocky turtle???”

It’s Rocky… with his turtles!

What connections does the Spirit bring about for you when you read these passages?

2015 Verse of the Week #46: Psalm 100:1-3

This week the passage is from Psalms again. It’s fitting that Seeds Family Worship included so many Psalms on their album Seeds of Praise. The song for this passage is called “Shout,” and while you might be expecting to hear screaming children on this track… it’s actually quite a calm, peaceful tune. Check out the verses in the NIV below:

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

There is a lot to this passage, but unfortunately I am a bit short on time and motivation today. In fact, I don’t feel like writing at all. It’s dreary outside, I have household tasks to do, errands to run, and the entire Internet to distract me from it all.

But a distracted, busy life does not open the heart to love or the mind to wisdom. Thanks to God’s leading me beside still waters and restoring my soul (Psalm 23) in the past, I recognize the need for quieting my heart, contemplating the Word, and acknowledging who God is. So I will try my darndest to do those things he is leading me to do, fighting against everything else that wants my attention (but is not as worthy of it as the Lord) and focusing on this passage for a brief slice of my morning.

Worship: Obviously, the phrase “Worship the Lord” makes me think of worship, but so does the phrase “Know that the Lord is God.” My study of Revelation through BSF is increasing my understanding of worship. This week in our at-home study material we looked at Revelation 4, which weighs in at only 11 verses and describes the throne of God in heaven. The beings who occupy the space closest to God’s throne are in a constant state of worship, and this is a description we find throughout the Bible. Any being that is in the presence of God, whether it is an angel/heavenly being, or if it is a human encountering the glory of God (such as Moses, Joshua, or Jesus’ disciples during the transfiguration), their responses include postures and behaviors signifying humility, unworthiness, maybe even fear, and ascribing all glory to God.

Here on earth it is difficult to get into that posture. Not only can we not physically see God, but our sinful souls get in the way of focusing on his Spirit, his Word, and his character. Our eyes, hearts, and minds are clouded by the sin within us and in the world.

I think that’s why the reaction of humans in Scripture faced with God’s glory is often one of fear. When presented with holy, blinding perfection, one would be immediately aware of the darkness within. Last week I mentioned that I’m working on love and enjoying some softening of my heart. One of the times during which I notice this is worship time at church. To join with my church family in singing praise to God using words of truth is a little taste of heaven, and I feel it in my heart.

But in studying Revelation and thinking about how angels and heavenly beings worship God continually in heaven, I see the contrast between earthly and heavenly worship. My understanding of worship here on earth can and will change, yes– I will have a deeper understanding of how to worship, God’s worthiness of all worship, and the Spirit can bring about a more God-centered, heartfelt experience as I worship in church and at other times. But I think what changes more is my understanding of and my longing for the true worship of heaven. Those in heaven can worship God fully because they are not weighed down as I am by sin within and around them. They are in God’s very presence. His presence floods the heavenly realm with glory. It is the only thing that matters, the only thing to focus on. When we get there it will feel right, not like a fight against distractions and sin as it is here. I look forward to the day when I am free of sin, free of the world, and free to worship.

In the mean time I desire more of God’s Spirit to take over my eyes, heart, and mind so I can experience a little more of God’s presence (which is heaven) even while I am here on earth. He allows me to do this because of Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin, and he sent his Spirit to literally dwell with me. Thankfulness for these gracious gifts is where the “gladness” comes in!

God’s People: When I read “we are his people,” again I think of Revelation. We have studied Romans 11 and Ephesians 4 to see the unfolding of God’s plan to include not only the Jewish people in salvation through Christ, but also Gentiles. Looking at these chapters increased my appreciation of being adopted into God’s family, and therefore also increased my awe and gratefulness to God for being welcomed to heaven someday as a co-heir and co-ruler with Christ as Revelation describes. This is part of what it means to be “his” as Psalm 100:3 states.

Sheep: Just one more thought, and this is perhaps where my distraction shows the most. There is a lot of information (and possibly misinformation) out there about how stupid sheep supposedly are. I’m not going to go there because I have never actually met a sheep and I wouldn’t want to hurt any sheep feelings. 😉 What I do know is that, throughout history and still today, these are creatures that always need help. They seem to be defenseless, whether this is due to low intelligence or physical construction, and require the guidance and care of a shepherd. If we are God’s sheep, I don’t know that this means we are stupid (maybe it does– even the best of us have “moments”), but it does seem to mean we were created to need the care of the Good Shepherd. I see this in different ways: from the very basic fact that we humans require sleep and must cede control for at least a few hours each night, to the more complex ideas of “eternity in our hearts” (Eccl. 3:11) or the longing of the human soul to connect with God (Acts 17:22-32). Because of what I know of God’s character from the Bible and the assurance of the Spirit, I am happy to be a sheep in his pasture.

A sheep.

Wrapping it up: I’m thankful to God for guiding my mind to truth about his Word and his character today, and pray that he will grow good things in my heart from the seeds planted there. This is what the Spirit does for us, God’s people.

I would love to hear form you: what sticks out to you about this passage from Psalm 100 or the other Scriptures I have mentioned? Where do the words cause your mind to go?

this image is from Logos Bible Software

2015 Verse of the Week #45: Revelation 7:10 & 12

Forty-five weeks into my verse-a-week challenge, and it has been just that! I haven’t always done my best with memorization or meditation, I’ll admit. I can’t perfectly recall the references for all of the passages, which is a little frustrating, and I’m looking into maybe some flash cards (digital or paper) to collect all of them in one spot for review and future reference. Please share ideas with me if you have them! I have experienced some benefits from focusing (strongly or weakly) on a verse each week, which I believe is the power of God’s Word and the grace of his character in action. Those truths are coming to mind when I need them, whether in moments of quiet reflection, conversation with friends, or teaching young ones.

When I was a child I didn’t understand the meaning of “hiding” God’s Word in your heart. I thought, “Why would I hide it when it’s something I’m supposed to see and remember?” To my young mind, hiding the Word didn’t jive with letting my light shine, learning and obeying, or really with loving God. But as I got older I started to have lightbulb moments with that phrase. It happened as Scripture I learned as a child came to my mind, accompanied by new understanding. It is not so much that we hide the Word in our hearts as we would hide a present until Christmas time. We don’t tuck it away to conceal the truth from ourselves, but we store it up (a simple change of translation could have helped me a lot as a kid!) for future use. The Bible tells us that God’s Word is living and active (Heb. 4:12), eternal (Is. 40:8 & 1 Pet. 1:25), and does not return empty (Is. 55:11). When God’s people learn his words, it’s like we pack all of those truths up and carry them with us on the journey of life, using what we have when we need, with help and guidance from God’s Spirit.

Another benefit of this verse-a-week thing, albeit a minor and less-spiritual one, has been numbering the weeks of the year. I have been more aware of how much or how little time is left in 2015. Forty-five feels like a good week number. We’re 7 weeks away from the end of the year and I am going to be at home for all of those weeks. I LOVE to be at home! To be sure, I will miss being with my families a little bit around the holidays, but it is nice to look ahead to this special season and know that I won’t need to pack suitcases or alter my work schedule or be ruled by a “to do before leaving town” list.

On to the verses of the week. The song on Seeds of Praise for these verses is “Amen,” and it’s track 3. The Scripture is Revelation 7:10 and 12, but I will also include verse 11.

Revelation 7:10-12

…and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

I’m studying Revelation in Bible Study Fellowship this year, and I’m enjoying it. We haven’t gotten to chapter 7 yet, though, so I don’t have any special insight on this passage. I’m excited to get there!

What I take from this passage today is this: if salvation belongs to God– and only God– and blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, and power all belong to him, then he must be the source we rely upon for all of these things, and we must give him credit and praise for who he is and what he provides.

I am working on praise. I am working on prayer. I am working on love. And it seems wrong to say I’m working on these things because of, you know… grace. But at the same time, these things do take work: living a life of praise, engaging in prayer, and accepting God’s love. Obedience takes practice and work. It isn’t that I can work my way to salvation. I cannot, as the passage above reminds me. But the proof of my salvation is in my desire to let the Spirit bring about fruits of praise and prayer and love and obedience in my life, and it takes work for me to yield to God rather than sitting in my mess and doing what I want. I have to pack my own suitcase, as it were.

In my thinking and praying about love, I am trying something: taking an intellectual moment and turning it into a heart moment. I’ve been having a lot of intellectual moments over the past several years. In fact, I think I could say my worship style has changed a bit from music to study. And I think that’s okay; the Word absolutely can and does lead us to praise. But I lost a bit of softness in my heart in that transition and I’m trying to get it back. So when I have moments of connecting two different Scriptural truths, or I see something in life that connects to Scripture, or I connect Scripture to my own needs or the grace of God in my life, etc. etc. I try to think, “This is because of God’s love for me,” or, “I am thinking this because of God’s Spirit, which means he is with me, and that is because he loves me.” That gets me a little emotional sometimes as I feel the Spirit softening my heart again. I pray this will continue.

Speaking of BSF up there, I should spend a little less time writing about Revelation here and a little more time doing that lesson I neglected all weekend. Here is a picture of the passage of the week from my own study Bible (with my very fancy BSF bookmark). FYI, my study Bible is the Open Bible in the New Living Translation.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts, and I hope you will be blessed by this passage from God’s Word.

my own image, edited with two apps: aillis and Rhonna Designs (both for iPhone)

my own image, edited with two apps: aillis and Rhonna Designs (both for iPhone)