Archive for January, 2014

Psalm 86:5–The Lord is good

January 31, 2014

Psalm 86-5

This morning I begin my time of prayer and meditation, thinking about the Verse of the Day for January 31, 2014, which brought to mind the goodness of God. I recall that I first became keenly aware of God’s goodness and mercy during a critical period of my life when I was drafted into the Army in 1967 in the midst of the Vietnam War. The members of my home church Carter Chapel C.M.E Church in Gary, Indiana presented me a small Bible with a zipper and with my name embossed in gold on the front along with the words “Holy Bible.” I still have the Bible, but the zipper has pulled away from the binding and has not worked for years, and the first two letters of my name are barely visible with the rest of the letters having long since been worn away.

When I open to Genesis, the first few pages were missing as well as the pages where I recall there was an inscription. The first pages are not only worn and discolored from notes that were written in ink that has not only blurred the frayed pages, but the edges of some of the pages have been eaten away by some kind of microscopic insect or parasite. Whenever I look at this particular Bible, my mind is flooded with wonderful memories of my tour of duty in the military when I became more keenly aware of just how good God is, as I was introduced to reading and studying the Scriptures in a much deeper way than previously. In reflecting upon that significant period in my life, I recall writing this poem:

More than My Necessary Food

“Who stole the cookie out the cookie jar?”

  Childhood Song

 

Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips;

I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.

Job 23:12

 

In thinking of God’s goodness over the years, I found

A cherished Bible received almost fifty years ago

When I met God through His Word, an encounter profound

And life-changing, as I recall the debt that I owe

To the members of my home church who expressed their love

With this precious gift that from constant use is so worn.

I open and find missing pages and some of

Them eaten away, devoured by a strange bookworm.

Like that insect, I found God’s Word and I did eat it,

And it was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart:

A child who steals the cookie with delight, I admit

I consumed it, hiding it in my heart’s deepest part.

Looking back, I have tasted and seen that God is good

And esteemed His Word more than my necessary food.

 

The poem opens with the lines from a children’s song that I recall singing way back in the 1960s. The Jeynetts offer a lively version of this children’s song sung so often at church camps or during pre-school activities or at other times when children gather.

As I completed the poem I also recalled the lyrics to an original song that I composed when I coordinated a summer children’s summer program ten years ago and used music as a means of memorizing scripture, in this case, Psalm 34:8

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.

Oh, Taste and See

Chorus:

Oh, taste and see, see that the Lord is good, so good.

Blessed is the man that puts his trust in Him.

Verse 1

Partake of the Word of God,

Taste and see that it is good.

It will fill you up

More than any kind of food.

(Chorus)

Verse 2

Partake of the Word of God,

Let it richly dwell within.

It will help you grow.

It’s better than a vitamin.

(Chorus)

Verse 3

Partake of the Word of God,

Read the Word and put God first.

It will feed your soul

And satisfy your thirst.

(Chorus)23:12,

Oh, taste and see, see that the Lord is good, so good.

Blessed is the man that puts his trust in Him.

 

Israel Houghton and New Breed reinforce the message with an energetic rendering of “Lord, You Are Good.”

I thought I would share some of my reflective thoughts on the goodness of God that came to mind while reading the Verse of the Day.

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Ephesians 4:2–Living with patience

January 30, 2014

Ephesians 4--2-3

Once again, the Amplified Bible offers a more expansive rendering of Ephesians 4:2

Living as becomes you] with complete lowliness of mind (humility) and meekness (unselfishness, gentleness, mildness), with patience, bearing with one another and making allowances because you love one another.

The Verse of the Day for January 30, 2014 is another reminder to live in humility and meekness with patience whereby we endure or bear up under, and “put up with,” making allowances for one another because we love one another. Patience is the golden strand woven throughout the gnarled threads that comprise the tapestries of our lives. As believers we are exhorted to wait patiently for the return of Christ who is our blessed hope. We are encouraged, not only to wait for him but to wait on him, as we serve one another in love.

Here is yet another reminder from Hebrews 10:36 in the Amplified Bible to have patience:

For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away [and enjoy to the full] what is promised.

Listen to this musical reminder to wait for the Lord:

Mark 9:35–First and last

January 29, 2014

Mark-9 35The Verse of the Day for January 29, 2014 expresses the paradox of servanthood: the last shall be first and the first shall be last. If you want to be in the premier position as number one, then put yourself in the last position by putting others first, and you will be great. A similar concept was expressed in another recent Verse of the Day taken from James 4:1 where we learn that that “the way down is the way up.”

Jesus Christ illustrates the same point that those who desire to be first should put themselves last and serve others first.  Nowhere is this portrait of a true servant of the Lord more vividly revealed than in the account where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples in John 13.

El_Lavatorio_(Tintoretto)A number of years ago, my wife and I received a special Christmas gift: a statue of Christ washing one of his disciples’ feet with the inscription John chapter 13 embossed on the base.  I was deeply moved when I opened the package and discovered such a priceless gift inside.   I recall a similar experience when I viewed another work of art that evoked a similar response.  In a journal entry written in 2003 as I was on my way to Dakar, Senegal, I described the situation and shared a poem based on the same account in John 13:

As I am enjoying the Vision of Madrid bus tour, I decide to get off at one of the stops—The Prado, the world famous museum housing a number of noteworthy works by such artists as Goya, El Greco, Velasquez, et.al.  Some of the most recognized works in the collection are religious themes and portraits based on incidents and individuals portrayed as if they were members of the contemporary society at the time the works were painted.  One particular painting, “El Lavatorio” by Tintoretto, deeply moves me in a profound way.  The larger than life painting depicts Jesus washing the feet of Peter, as the others have either had their feet washed or are waiting for the experience.  Once again I try to envision what the disciples must have thought when Jesus took a towel and a basin and began to wash their feet.  What an overwhelming lesson in humility.  As I reflect upon the painting which moves me to tears, I thought of this poem:

Let Me Wash Your Feet

John 13:4-5, 19

As Jesus put off his garments and wrapped a towel

around himself,

So I lay aside my pride with nothing to hide and

expose myself.

As a humble servant I long to wash your feet.

You could yourself

Perform this deed of loving service, but let me

serve you myself.

To allow me to wash your feet is to bless me,

as Christ himself

Blessed the Twelve before he departed from this earth.

You have yourself

The key to the door of blessing for you and me:

As Jesus took

Upon himself

The servant’s form

That I myself

Might freely give

To you yourself,

So I ask you

As Christ himself

Still asks of me,

So I ask you to

Let me to wash your feet.

“The Basin and the Towel,” musical composition by Michael Card, also portrays this moving account of John 13 in this video:

The Verse of the Day reminds us once again that those who would be great must first serve others.

basin and towel

John 4:24: A lifestyle of worship

January 28, 2014

John 4--24

John 4:24, the Verse of the Day for January 28, 201, was a verse for which I composed a scripture memory song more than ten years ago with these lyrics:

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him

Must worship him in spirit and in truth.

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him

Must worship him in spirit and in truth.

 

For the Father seeketh such to worship him.

The Father seeketh such to worship him.

The Father seeketh such to worship him,

To worship Him in spirit and in truth.

In a journal entry written a number of years ago, I comment on aspects of praise and worship which are a part of many church services. I note that the service will often begin in a very lively manner, as an attitude of praise energizes the morning service, but a noticeable change takes place as we move from praise into worship where we linger in the intimate presence of God.  It is almost like riding in a raft over the white water rapids of a river and then the raft suddenly, yet not so subtly changes its course onto to a placid stream where you float swan-like downstream. Many times those directing praise and worship will lead the congregation into a number of spontaneous acapella worship songs that will usher us into the very presence of God.

The Verse of the Day from John 4:24 speaks of true worship and God’s desire that we worship Him in spirit and in truth.” This “spirit of worship,” however, is to be maintained outside the confines of the church, as each believer should endeavor to develop “a lifestyle of worship.”

In reflecting upon worship as an expression of the most intimate relationship with God, we recognize and come to know the value of this deepest intimacy, which is the title of a poem also inspired by John 4:23-24:

The Value of Deepest Intimacy

Worship is a lifestyle which reveals God’s worth.  

 James Cook

23But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true

worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit

and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

 24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him

 must worship him in spirit and in truth.

John 4:23-24

 

Beyond the price of passion when two lovers meet:

You are my treasure, and I am yours furthermore,

More precious than anointing oil compounded to pour

Upon Aaron’s head and running down to his feet.

Costly are aloes that perfume our bed, a token.

How precious is the balm that soothes and allays all fears:

Whispered words tenderly express to caress the ears,

Endearing words of affection constantly spoken.

Though satisfied for now, our love is yet to be fulfilled

To quench the deep thirsting in my soul for more of you.

Though each time that we are together our love seems new,

Only in eternity will true love be revealed.

What is the worth of true worship in the highest degree?

Priceless is the value of this deepest intimacy.

 

Among the many worship songs that speak in terms of an intimate relationship with God is “Here I am to worship”:

Just as we are earnestly seeking a true worship experience with God, the Father is seeking just such people as these as His worshipers.

The way down is the way up in the Valley of Vision

January 26, 2014

james-4-10

The Verse of the Day for January 26, 2014 from James 4:10 reveals that “The way up is the way down.” This scripture reminds us that humility is the key to promotion. Of course, the ultimate example to illustrate this paradox is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2:5-9 in the Amplified Bible offer this reminder:

5Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:]

Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained,

But stripped Himself [of all privileges and [rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being.

And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!

Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name,

Jesus Christ points to the duality of humility and promotion when he says in Luke 14:11:

For whosoever exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted

Jesus Christ associates being humble with a child in Matthew 18:4 (Amplified Bible)

Whoever will humble himself therefore and become like this little child [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving] is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The same point is made in a different way in Matthew 23:12 (Amplified Bible)

 Whoever exalts himself [with haughtiness and empty pride] shall be humbled (brought low), and whoever humbles himself [whoever has a modest opinion of himself and behaves accordingly] shall be raised to honor.

The essence of this discussion of the paradox of humility and promotion is so clearly expressed in the title prayer from a collection edited by Arthur Bennett: The Valley of VisionA Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.

The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine;
let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.

JD Sebastian offers a worship song and prayer inspired by Phillipians 2:

Without question, in terms of promotion with God, humility is the key. Indeed, the way down is the way up.

Philippians 4:8: Change your mind

January 25, 2014

Philippians_4-8

The Verse of the Day for January 25, 2014 comes from Philippians 4:8:

Take a look at this graphic illustration of the verse set to music:

As is sometimes the case, I prefer examining the passage in a version other than King James, such as the Amplified Bible:

For the rest, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them].

This verse also causes me to think of Colossians 3:2 in the Amplified Bible:

And set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things), not on the things that are on the earth.

These verses bring to mind the process of metamorphosis that butterflies and other organisms undergo, reminding us of a similar spiritual process called “renewing the mind.” Christians are instructed not to be conformed but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12:1). The New Testament phrase is translated from the Greek word metamorphoo, from which the English word metamorphosis is derived. The phrase is also used to express that as believers strive to manifest more of Christ in their lives, they are also “changed” into the same image.

As believers, we are exhorted to change the way we think.  We are encouraged to change of our minds and develop new thinking patterns. We are to put off the old man and to put on the new man, as we put away lying or any other ungodly practices.  Instead of continuing in the direction that habitually takes us away from presence of God, we are encouraged to move in the opposite direction, as this poem reminds us to do:

Moving in the Opposite Spirit

Quit backbiting—God doesn’t want to hear it.

Don’t retaliate—move in the opposite spirit.

“Bump it up!”

 

And do not be conformed to this world,

but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,

that you may prove what is that good and acceptable

and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:2

 

Moving in the opposite spirit, not in hate

But walking in love, being kind, tenderhearted;

Not being anxious but learning to patiently wait;

To quench the fiery tongue before it gets started;

Never spewing venom but with our mouths confess

The truth of the Word of God that we might make known

What God declares we are, to always seek to bless

And reap a great harvest from good seed that is sown;

To reverse the curse and counter iniquity.

God orders our steps, and we choose the path of peace,

Not to seek revenge but pray for each enemy,

For all giving assures that favor will increase;

Renewed in the spirit of our mind night and day,

Being transformed “to put off, put on, put away.”

 

Here is a musical version of Philippians 4:8 from Seeds Family Worship.

Ask God: In pursuit of wisdom

January 23, 2014

 

James 1-5

The Verse for Today in the King James Version brought to mind the exhortation to pursue wisdom. Asking God for wisdom can be seen as part of our pursuit of wisdom which we are asked to do, not only James 1:5 but throughout the Book of Proverbs as well. The idea of pursuing wisdom brought to mind an incident that occurred a number of years ago.

I recall going on a field trip to the Indiana Dunes State Park, outside of Gary, Indiana, when I was in middle school, what we called “junior high school,” back in the day. Somehow I came across a small stream running through a wooded area. As I followed the creek through the winding woods, I was determined to find the area where the stream began, but as I progressed, the size of the stream remained the same and continued to flow on endlessly. After about a half an hour, I realized that I needed to get back to area where we supposed to meet before departing on the bus and returning to “the Steel City.” When I arrived at the place where we were to meet, I learned that I was quite late, and that I had delayed their departure.

As I was reflecting upon the exhortation to ask God for wisdom, this experience from my childhood came to mind, in light of the directive to pursue wisdom, to search diligently for wisdom, and wholeheartedly seek to find this valuable spiritual entity. I also thought of the following poem that is related to this topic:

In Pursuit of Wisdom

 

Happy (blessed, fortunate, enviable) is the man

who finds skillful and godly Wisdom,

and the man who gets understanding

[drawing it forth from God’s Word and life’s experiences],

 

For the gaining of it is better than the gaining of silver,

and the profit of it better than fine gold.

Proverbs 3:13-14

 

To cause to flee as one chases an enemy,

To relentlessly follow and then overtake,

As a hunter reads footprints and tracks down his game,

So your fragrance arouses me as I awake.

Desire, a fire, flames the passion deep within me.

Though I have felt your touch and kissed your lips before,

As a lover pursues his beloved, so I

Yearn to be with you and to know you even more,

Assured that all who pursue you shall also find.

As the sun rises to follow its daily course,

Zealously I seek you with my heart and soul and mind,

As one traces a winding river to its source.

As one forsakes all to pursue a priceless treasure,

So I seek the Spirit of Wisdom’s good pleasure.

 

Although that experience occurred almost sixty years ago, I am still asking for wisdom while earnestly seeking to find the source of all life, the river of life, from which flows wisdom, knowledge, understanding and all the attributes of God.

I conclude this blog entry with a song of worship that also came to mind, “My Soul Follows Hard after Thee” with lyrics by Don Moen:

Matthew 7:7-8: Ask, Seek, and Knock

January 22, 2014

Matthew_7-7-8

The Verse of the Day for January 22, 2014 brought to mind a scripture memory song that I composed more than 10 years ago. The arrangement of the lyrics shows an acrostic poem that spells out the word “ask,” the first three letters of which form the three verbs found in verse 7. In a prayer notebook that I once had, I recall having a card with the words “Ask God” on one side and Matthew 7:7, 8 on the other.

Ask and it shall be given you;

Seek and you shall find.

Knock and it shall be opened unto to you.

Ask, seek and knock.

Ask, seek and knock.

 

For everyone who asketh receiveth.

He that seeketh findeth.

And to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.

Ask, seek and knock.

Ask, seek and knock.

In reflecting on the passage from the Sermon on the Mount, my mind especially went to the last phrase of the 8th verse: “. . . and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”  Revelation 3:20 came to mind where the Master declares, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If any man hear my voice and openeth the door, I will come in and sup with him and he with me.”

In the Bible, eating with someone was a most intimate act.  One did not eat with strangers or those outside his most intimate circle of family and friends. In that light, Revelation 3:20 takes on even more significance as an invitation to intimacy.  Luke 24 speaks of Jesus and the disciples on the Road to Emmaus and of their breaking bread together, a time of intense intimacy when Jesus opened the eyes of their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures.  This unfolding of Himself as revealed in the Scriptures occurred during a meal, a time of wonderfully rich fellowship and intimacy.

During the same period when I wrote the scripture memory song using Matthew 7:7-8, I also recall composing a song that we used to sing before serving our lunch at the summer program for school-age children where I worked. It is based in part on the passage from Revelation:

Come and dine with me, Jesus said

Come and dine with me, Jesus said

I’ve prepared a table to set before you

Come and dine with me, Jesus said

In thinking about the passage from Matthew 7:7-8, I recognize that in the Greek New Testament the three verbs are expressed in the present progressive tense: meaning keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. In the same manner that a child will keep asking for a treat while shopping with his or her parents, Jesus Christ says to continue to ask, continue to seek, continue to knock.

A few years later after having composed the first scripture memory song, I also wrote another song based on the same passage:

 

Ask, Seek and Knock (Matthew 7:7-8)

Ask and it shall be given you;

Seek and you shall find.

Knock and it shall be opened unto to you.

Ask, seek and knock.

Ask, seek and knock.

 

For everyone who asketh receiveth.

He that seeketh findeth.

And to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.

Ask, seek and knock.

Ask, seek and knock.

 

Always ask, no matter how great or small the task.

Serve the Lord God with a pure heart and remove the mask.

Keep trusting in the Lord–all you have to do is ask.

 

Someday soon we shall stand on top of the mountain peak.

Every golden promise God has fulfilled, as we speak.

Each day adds another victory toward your winning streak.

Keep pressing toward the mark to obtain the prize you seek.

 

Keep renewing your mind, assess your thoughts and take stock.

Never give up–build your hope on Christ, the solid rock.

Overcome the odds–by faith get around any roadblock.

Count your blessings with every tick-tock of the clock.

Keep this in mind and call on the Lord: ask, seek, and knock.

 

Kim McFarland and the Thompson Community Singers offer this stirring reminder: “Just Ask in My Name.”

A Prayer for Patience

January 20, 2014

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

In thinking about the nine fruit of the spirit listed in the passage that is the Verse of the Day for March 19, 2014, I realize that one of those fruit seems to be in season for me. In a previous blog entry, I talk about one particular fruit of the spirit and that is longsuffering or patience. The entry “A Prayer for Patience” is re-posted here:

James 1--2-3

The Verse of the Day for January 20, 2014 brings to mind that as we wait on the Lord, we are not to waiting in a state of anxiety, not in a state of doubt or fear, as we encounter fiery trials.  Instead, the state in which we wait is the state of patience—we are patiently waiting. I recently came across this poem that I wrote as related to this important fruit of the Spirit:

A Prayer for Patience

“My suggestion for people in a season of birth or upgrade   

is to write out a prayer for patience and pray it every day.”  

Graham Cooke


For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance,

so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God,

and thus receive and carry away [and enjoy to the full] what is promised.

Hebrews 10:36 (Amplified Bible)

I look back and pause and then look ahead to see

Clearly who God is, who He wants to be for me.

I still journey down the road less traveled by

And pray that patience may serve as a trusted ally.

I must say “No” to the pressures of this life

And say “Yes” to the rest God gives, despite the strife.

As I stay my mind on Him, I abide in peace.

When I praise God, works of the enemy decrease.

May I remain and not fall by the wayside as some

But like Job wait until at last my change shall come.

Patient endurance seems delayed for some reason,

But fruit abounds to those who wait in their season.

I pray that in this time of transition and shift

That I embrace waiting as a wonderful gift.

Hebrews 10:36 also offers this reminder in the New Living Translation:

Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

Knowing this, we can count it all joy when we encounter various fiery trials that test our faith and build patient endurance.

The Winans offers this musical reminder to “Count it All Joy.”

Matthew 7:12: The Golden Rule

January 19, 2014

Matthew_7-12

In the Verse of the Day for January 19, 2014, taken from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ expresses a command that has become known as the “Golden Rule.”  In a discussion of “Who invented the Golden Rule?” Dangerousintersection.org refers to a site called Palatine Hill, which lists some of the oldest formulations of the Golden Rule in reverse chronological order:

  • Ancient Egypt. – circa 2000 BCE “Do for one who may do for you, That you may cause him thus to do.” – The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant 109-110,
  • Hebrew Bible – circa 700 BCE “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.”
  • Zoroastrianism. – circa 600 BCE “That nature only is good when it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self.” – Dadistan-i-Dinik 94:5,
  • Buddhism. – circa 500 BCE “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” – Udana-Varga 5:18,
  • Confucianism. – circa 500 BCE “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Analects of Confucius 15:24,
  • Socrates. – circa 400 BCE “Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.”

Even though the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked and no one can know it (Jeremiah 17:9), there is a corresponding desire to do good and to do the right thing. Paul personalizes this struggle and speaks of the conflict inherent in believers:

Matthew 7:18-22:

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.

22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

Jesus Christ offers a one-sentence statement that embraces all human behavior whereby he expresses God’s desire for all humanity in what has become known as “The Golden Rule.”

The Sermon on the Mount begins with Matthew 5 which offers the Beatitudes which are dramatically recited in this video which is a prelude to the verse in Matthew 7: