Just how much God loves us

February 10, 2017

1 Corinthians 13--1-3

The New Year continues to unfold, and our thoughts turn toward “love” as the 14th of February approaches. Not just on Valentine’s Day but every day, we should seek to soar to the heights of a love supreme, the love of God or agape, the highest form of love. This love differs from eros or passion or sensuous love of the flesh and is even beyond philos­ or love of friends or family. The root of philos is found in the designation of Philadelphia, which is known as the “City of Brotherly Love.” On the other hand, agape, a term that is used exclusively in the New Testament, reveals the uniqueness of God’s love which is so clearly defined in I Corinthians 13, a passage of scripture that is often excerpted or quoted in its entirety at weddings. The Verse of the Day for February 10, 2017 is the opening section of this celebrated expression of God’s love:

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

The Greatest Gift] Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

This passage makes reference to magnanimous spiritual accomplishments or “great spiritual exploits” related to the ability to speak  in tongues, whether a language spoken on earth or the heavenly language of angels or being able to prophesy and demonstrate a depth of spiritual understanding or being able to live a life of self-sacrifice to the ultimate degree. No matter how impressive these endeavors may be, they ultimately do not benefit the individual who performs them if that person’s underlying motivation is not love.

With love, as with any other emotion, there must be a demonstration or manifestation whereby one knows the reality of the emotion in question. Believers speak of the love of God in manifestation which is so clearly demonstrated in one of the most widely recognized verses in the Bible, John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

It has been said that you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. Indeed, all love is giving. The essence of love as defined by giving is also seen in these words from John Oxenham:

Love ever lives, outlives, forgives,

And while it stands with open hands it lives.

For this is love’s prerogative:

To give and give and give

The book of I John also elaborates on the love of God:

1 John 3:16

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.

The love of God is “perfected” or made complete or brought to maturity in us when we walk in the steps of Jesus Christ, the ultimate example of perfect love. This demonstration reveals the depth of love that God has for us. May we always remember:

“. . .  Just how much God loves us.”

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [that is, the atoning sacrifice, and the satisfying offering] for our sins [fulfilling God’s requirement for justice against sin and placating His wrath].

1 John 4:10

Father, expand our mind and widen our comprehension

To recognize your ways to an even greater dimension.

As we call upon your name and bow in humility,

Deepen our understanding, as you give us eyes to see.

Enlighten our souls with the wisdom that comes from above.

You call us your beloved, worthy of your endless love.

When we are tempted, knowing that you love us dispels all fear.

As we seek to please you, open our ears that we might hear

Your word and endeavor to hide it deep within our heart.

Despite past failures, misdeeds, and shortcomings on our part,

Your love is constant and never changes but ever grows,

Unfolding in matchless beauty as a dew-kissed rose.

You say do not love worldly things or pleasures they may bring.

You show us God’s love is to be prized more than anything.

Listen to these heart-strengthening lyrics of “The Love of God” offered by Mercy Me:

Increasing faith, abounding love

February 9, 2017

2 thessalonians 1-3

The Verse of the Day comes from 2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NKJV)

[ God’s Final Judgment and Glory ] We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other,

The Amplified Bible puts it this way:

We ought and indeed are obligated [as those in debt] to give thanks always to God for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is growing exceedingly and the love of every one of you each toward the others is increasing and abounds.

The Verse of the Day notes two areas of growth in Christian believers: faith and love which are mentioned in Thessalonians, the Church Epistles whose focus is hope, the hope of Christ’s return.

Faith

Faith is not static but God’s desire is that our faith grow, increase and abound. When the  apostles said unto the Lord, “Increase our faith,” he responded:

 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. (Luke 17:6)

The plant mentioned by Jesus Christ to illustrate faith is the very small seed of the mustard tree, a pod-bearing, shrub-like plant, growing wild, which is also cultivated in gardens. The little round seeds were an emblem of any small insignificant object. Faith is described in this way: “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth.” Jesus goes on to say, “It [faith] is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.”

A mustard seed once planted and nurtured grows into a mighty tree, just as our faith should grow and abound.

Love:

Not only are believers to grow in faith, they are also exhorted to abound in love, as is mentioned in

2 Corinthians 8:7

Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.

Philippians 1:9

And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;

1 Thessalonians 3:12

And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:

One of the classic metaphors that describe love is a rose. Indeed, love is a rose that grows—

The budding rose never stays the same but unfolds in lovelier ways.

Although the Verse of the Day reminds us our faith and love are to increase and abound, the opening lyrics from a song written by Dale Evans Rogers speak of three essential aspects of the Christian walk:

Have faith, hope and charity,
That’s the way to live successfully.
How do I know, the Bible tells me so.

Volumes could be written and have been, for that matter, on each of these topics, all three of which are mentioned in the last verse of I Corinthians 13 which provides the quintessential definition of “charity” which is also translated from agape, meaning “the love of God” in the following poem which introduces all three elements:

These Three

And now abide faith, hope, love, these three;

but the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians 13:13 (New King James Version

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love,

and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ

in the sight of our God and Father,

1 Thessalonians 1:3 (New King James Version)

 

As Abraham lived by faith, trusted and obeyed,

So we walk by faith and follow his example,

For God is faithful and through His Word conveyed

That the blessings of the Lord are more than ample.

Despite the storms of life, we are anchored in hope.

As Kingdom citizens with their minds set above,

We view heavenly bodies as through a telescope

And soar beyond the world on wings of a dove.

We seek to follow after Christ, the more excellent way,

To walk in love and simply follow his command.

Renewing our minds in all that we do and say,

We seek not be understood but to understand.

Live by faith, rejoice in hope, walk in love and see

Faith, hope and love: Love is the greatest of these three.

The following song embodies all three of these priceless virtues:

Love your enemies

February 8, 2017

Matthew-5-44

The Verse of the Day for February 8, 2017 is found in the section of Scripture known as “The Beatitudes”:

Matthew 5:43-45 (NKJV):

[Love Your Enemies] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

An entry on the Beatitudes is revised and re-posted here:

Part of the “Sermon on the Mount,” which some scholars maintain is really the “Sermon on the Plain,” the Beatitudes form a series of eight declarations that begin with the word “blessed.” Translated from the Greek word, makarios, “blessed” refers to a state of spiritual well-being and prosperity, expressing deep joy and fulfillment of the soul. The word has been translated, happy, fortunate, favored. A contemporary response when asked about one’s state of being is the expression, “blessed and highly favored.”

The following scripture memory song speaks of the passage in this way:

The Beatitudes are the “Be Attitudes.”
They help us to see. They help us to be
All that God wants us to be.
We will be blessed and be a blessing in return
When we learn to follow the “Be Attitudes.”

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

The Beatitudes are the “Be Attitudes.”
They help us to see. They help us to be
All that God wants us to be.
We will be blessed and be a blessing in return
When we learn to follow the “Be Attitudes.”
When we learn to follow the “Be Attitudes.”

Listen to the Beatitude Song by Hillsong

Dr. Martin Luther King speaks of the life-transforming power of the love of God, making reference to the passage from the Beatitudes that states “Love your enemies.”

Our deliverer to the rescue

February 7, 2017

Psalm 97-10

The Verse of the Day for February 7, 2017 comes from Psalm 97:10 (NKJV)

You who love the Lord, hate evil! He protects the lives of his godly people and rescues them from the power of the wicked.

The Amplified Bible renders the verse this way:

10 O you who love the Lord, hate evil; He preserves the lives of His saints (the children of God), He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.

The closing phrase brings to mind Isaiah 46:4, rendered in the New King James version:

Even to your old age, I am He,
And even to gray hairs I will carry you!
I have made, and I will bear;
Even I will carry, and will deliver you.

The promise that God will deliver brings to mind this poem recently posted in an entry entitled “The Art of Listening”:

Listen to Me

Isaiah 46:3-4

Listen to me. Open your ears and clearly hear

I have always been there. Though you had not perceived

My presence in the wasteland, I was ever near.

Indeed, I knew you before you were first conceived.

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He

Who still holds you and causes you to remember.

I open deaf ears and cause blinded eyes to see

The passion that consumes your soul was once an ember.

Though I seem to be delayed, I will not tarry

But will return for the faithful ones who remain:

Those whom I have made those I will also carry;

Those whom I have called by name I will sustain.

Rest in me: I will perform all I said to do.

Know that I will sustain you and will rescue you.

In response to the truth that God has promised to rescue those who call upon His name, we can be assured that He will.  Just as he has delivered us in times past, we know that He will once more come to our rescue. As the lyrics to the song so clearly proclaim: “We may not know how/We may not know when, but He’ll do it again”, just as this poem reminds us:

Just How God Will Deliver Us

that we should not trust in ourselves,    

but in God which raises the dead:

Who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver:    

in whom we trust that he will still deliver us;  

 1 Corinthians 1:8-9

Just how God will deliver us this we do not know,

But of His unfailing love and power we are sure:

He can send ravens or simply command a widow

To sustain Elijah and all those who will endure.

Although He may not be early, our God is never late.

We rest in knowing that God, our Father, is faithful,

As we trust in Him, learning to labor and to wait.

For each promise fulfilled we are ever so grateful,

And we express our gratitude in word and in deed.

Despite the challenge, God has been there time after time.

Each day we will walk by faith wherever Christ may lead,

Knowing grand mountain vistas await all those who climb.

The hand of God has brought us thus far along the way,

And we will finish our course is all we have to say.

In thinking about God as a deliverer, I also recall lyrics to another original song:

I Will Deliver You

I will deliver you from the snare of the fowler.

As a bird escapes from the cage, so I will release you from captivity.

I will lift you up, out of the hand of your fiercest enemy.

I will draw you to myself and hide you under the safety of my wing.

I will deliver you from the raging deep waters.

The sea shall not overwhelm you, but I will bring you through the storms in peace.

I will lift you up, and bear you up on the wings of an eagle.

I will provide for you and hide you in my secret dwelling place.

These lyrics bring to mind yet another song of great comfort and assurance: “My Deliverer” offered by Chris Tomlin:

Day after Super Bowl and every day: Made a way

February 6, 2017

made-a-way-2

On Monday following Super Bowl LI, the sports world is still reeling from the historic 34-28 win of the New England Patriots over the Atlanta Falcons. In one of the most amazing comebacks in sport history, Tom Brady and the Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit to seize the victory in the first Super Bowl overtime. In reflecting on the game and its outcome, some seek to find spiritual application and look for lessons that can be learned.

I recall lyrics to a children’s song composed to teach the character trait “perseverance,” a strong quality of life that the Patriots demonstrated:

Never give up! Keep your chin up!

Never give up! And you will find

The strength you need to give it one more try.

Never give up Keep your chin up!

Never give up! But realize

You’ve got to go “through” to get to the prize.

So never give up! Keep your chin up!

In the end perseverance always pays.

In the end perseverance always pays.

Most remarkably, at our church, Christian Provision Ministries in Sanford, NC, the morning service was part of Super Bowl weekend, and one of the songs offered by the praise and worship team  was “Made a way” by Travis Greene  with these lyrics:

Standing here not knowing how we’ll get through this test
But holding onto faith you know best
Nothing can catch you by surprise
You’ve got this figured out and you’re watching us now

But when it looks as if we can’t win
You wrap us in your arm and step in
And everything we need you supply
You got this in control
And now we know that

You made a way
When our backs were against the wall
And it looked as if it was over
You made a way
And we’re standing here
Only because you made a way
You made a way

Now we’re here
Looking back on where we come from
Because of you and nothing we’ve done
To deserve the love and mercy you’ve shown
But your grace was strong enough to pick us up

And you made a way
When our backs were against the wall
And it looked as if it was over
You made a way
And we’re standing here
Only because you made a way

You move mountains

You cause walls to fall

With your power

You perform miracles

There is nothing that’s impossible

And we’re standing here

Only because you made a way

Travis Greene stirs our heart with this powerful song:

In reflecting on what happened during Super Bowl LI and in every aspect of “the game of life” when circumstances seem impossible, as believers, we are standing in victory because God “Made a way.”

Surely goodness

February 5, 2017

Psalm 33_4-5

The Verse of the Day for February 5, 2017 is found in Psalm 33:4-5 in the New Living Translation:

For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does. He loves whatever is just and good; the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.

The New King James Version put it this way:

For the word of the Lord is right,
And all His work is done in truth.
He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.

Verse 5 speaks of the “goodness of the Lord” that fills the whole Earth, bringing to mind one of the themes for the New Year: “2017 Unlimited Goodness and Unlimited Favor.”

Without question, the goodness of God surrounds us and sustains us every day. The Psalmist reiterates this truth:

Psalm 27:13 (KJV)

I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

The Holman Standard Bible boldly declares:

Psalm 31:19

How great is Your goodness that You have stored up for those who fear You and accomplished in the sight of everyone for those who take refuge in You.

God’s goodness toward us is expressed in Jesus Christ, who acknowledged that there is no one good except the Father. The very essence of God is goodness which believers personalize when we proclaim:

Oh, my goodness,

Oh, my gracious,

Oh, my goodness, gracious Lord.

Romans 2:4 (NKJV) raises this question regarding God’s goodness:

Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

The lyrics to another song also ask the same question and provide an answer:

Don’t you know the goodness of God leads us to repentance?

He has cancelled the curse and commuted our sentence.

By His gift of love and grace, Christ has taken our place

And redeemed us from the hand of the enemy.

Open your eyes and you will see

His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering.

Yes, the goodness of God leads us to repentance.

Yes, the goodness of God leads us to repentance.

As Christian believers, we give thanks to God for His grace and goodness. With our lips we give praise and bless the Lord, singing of His goodness. One of the most often quoted Old Testament passages is Psalm 23 which mentions the goodness of the Lord in the last verse:

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The last verse reminds us that goodness, like a rear guard, a powerful “back-up,” follows us throughout our lives. Israel Houghton shares this lively musical reminder of this life-sustaining truth:

That we might be strengthened in the Lord, our God

February 4, 2017

Psalm 18_1--3

The Verse of the Day for February 4, 2017 was posted a year ago; it is modified and re-posted here:

Psalm 18:1-2 (NLT)

[Psalm 18] [For the choir director: A psalm of David, the servant of the Lord. He sang this song to the Lord on the day the Lord rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul. He sang:] I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.

In this passage we find two references to the strength that comes from God Almighty: “O Lord, my strength” and “my God, my strength.” As I reflected upon this passage, I recall a “crafted prayer” composed as a petition to God that, as believers, we might be strengthened in the Lord.

Developed by Graham Cooke, the concept of “crafted prayer” involves using the Scriptures to construct specific, targeted prayers, addressed to God. Such prayers may be expressed individually as well as corporately. In his book Crafted Prayer, Cooke reveals that those who “pray the Bible” or use the Scriptures as the basis for their prayers will experience “the joy of always getting your prayers answered.”

A Crafted Prayer that We Might Be Strengthened in the Lord, Our God

O God, you have been our help in ages past; you have delivered our souls from destruction in days gone by, and we know that you are a very present help in the midst of every one of the trials and tribulations that we face each day, as you continue to deliver those who call upon your name. God of power and might, you are our hope for every tomorrow. As the days of our lives unfold before us, we face the future with confidence, knowing that our times are in your hands and that you shall deliver us out of the hand of the enemy.

God, you are our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. We come to you, the source of all strength and might, thanking you that you have fortified us through Christ Jesus. We know that the Lord saves His anointed; you will answer us from your holy heaven with the saving strength of your right hand.  Though our flesh and our hearts may fail, God, our almighty fortress, is the rock and firm strength of our hearts and our portion forever. In the day when we cry out to you, you answer us and strengthen us with strength in our souls.

We declare that the LORD is our light and our salvation; whom or what shall we fear? The LORD is the strength of our lives; of whom or what shall we be afraid? You declare that we should not fear, for you are with us. We should not be dismayed, for you are our God. You will strengthen us; yes, you will help us. Indeed, you will uphold us with the right hand of your righteousness.

We had fainted, unless we had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. As we wait on the LORD, we will be of good courage, assured that He shall strengthen our hearts. We are confident that as we wait upon the LORD, we shall renew our strength. We shall mount up with wings as eagles; for you make known that just as you bore Israel upon eagles’ wings and brought them unto yourself, so you will elevate us and raise us above any circumstance that seeks to keep us from being all that you have called us to be. As we wait on you, we know that in due season, we shall run, and not be weary; and we shall walk, and not faint.

As you bless and refresh us and fill us anew with your overflowing goodness and mercy, so we pour into one another, as we encourage ourselves and one another in the Lord, Jesus Christ, who infuses inner strength into us. We minister and pray for one another that we may be mutually strengthened and encouraged and comforted by each other’s faith, as we go from strength to strength, and glory to glory, even from faith to faith. Your desire is that we may be invigorated and strengthened with all power according to the might of your glory, to exercise every kind of endurance and patience, perseverance and forbearance with joy.

We conclude our petitions with this declaration:

That we will be strengthened, perfected, completed, and made to be what we ought to be. We will be encouraged and consoled and comforted and will be of the same agreeable mind one with another. We proclaim that we will live in peace, knowing that the God of love, who is the source of affection, goodwill, love, and benevolence toward men and the author and promoter of peace is with us. We make known that according to the riches of God’s glory, that we are strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith; that we, being rooted and grounded in love, are able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height and that we know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that we are filled with all the fullness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. All these things we declare to be so through the accomplished work of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, our soon-coming King, who is the strength our lives. Amen.

Psalm 18:1-2 are among the verses forming the foundation for “In Christ Alone,” the source of strength in whom we stand:

Yes, Spring is coming

February 3, 2017

spring-is-coming

On yesterday, February 2, the following headline appeared in the Washington Post:

“Groundhog Day 2017: Phil says ‘long winter,’ but he was wrong before he even woke up.”

Despite the fact that Punxsutawney Phil, the celebrated groundhog from Pennsylvania, saw his shadow, predicting another 6 weeks of winter weather, much of the country has already experience record-high temperatures in January. In many places spring flowers are already in bloom. A couple of days ago, I noticed three trees in full bloom with delicate pink blossoms, and I thought  it looks like it’s going to be an early spring this year.

In addition, on February 1, robins were sighted in nearby Angier, North Carolina, another sure sign that Spring is on the way.  Whenever I think of robins returning after their brief winter absence, I recall that I made my acting debut in the second grade when I played “Robin Redbreast.” With my red sweater and brown paper wings flapping vigorously, I ran across the stage proclaiming, “Spring is coming! . . . Spring is coming! . . . Spring is coming!”

A few years ago our daughter, Melissa, sent me a card with the “Easter Legend of the Robin” on the cover:

A little grey robin, as he was flying to the Holy Land, saw Christ hanging on the cross. His heart filled with sadness. He noticed the crown of thorns the soldiers placed on the crucified Savior. The small bird, forgetting his timidity, flew down to remove a thorn from the brow of Christ. As he did so, a drop of Christ’s blood stained the little bird’s breast. The robin, through his act of love, earned the red badge of courage.

From this time forth, all robins have had red breasts as reminder that one of them was kind to the Lord. Thus, the robin is truly the harbinger of spring. He welcomes Easter with his cheerful note of hope, reminding us that from death comes life.

In reflecting upon my acting debut, I composed a song that I sing when I see robins returning in winter:

Red Robin, Red Robin—Harbinger of Spring,

Rear back with your red breast

And sing, sing, sing.

Originally written in light of the Challenger Spacecraft disaster, the poem “Until Spring” was also written in anticipation of one of my favorite seasons:

Until Spring

So when this corruptible has put on incorruption,

and this mortal has put on immortality,

then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,

“Death is swallowed up in victory.  O Death,

where is your sting?  O Hades, where is your victory?

I Corinthians 15:54-55

Whether on earth or shuttled in the sky,

Death snuffs out our candles in devious ways,

For we all must learn to number our days,

Although the soul still probes to fathom why.

The mind made numb with pain can only try

To make sense of the immense ache that stays.

The answer sounds since Adam but still dismays:

It is appointed unto man once to die.

Though grief surrounds us, comfort can be shown.

The sun melts frost with new life as surely

As blossoms will flourish from seeds once sown.

Until Spring, on tip-toe we yearn to see

The day when we shall know as we are known,

When death is swallowed up in victory.                     

To close our discussion is this magnificent song by Steven Curtis Chapman, who wrote the song following the death of his 5 year-old daughter in a tragic accident at the family’s home in 2008.  This exquisite musical composition offers a comforting reminder that, indeed, “Spring is coming.”

The art of listening

February 1, 2017

deuteronomy-6-4-5

The Verse of the Day for February 1, 2017 is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (New Living Translation):

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.

This passage is part of the Shema, a daily prayer spoken in the Jewish tradition. The Hebrew word Shema, which means “hear,” begins this most important request from God in verse 4. The entire prayer includes verses 4-9.  The New Living Translation renders the word shema  “Listen”:

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The opening imperative “Listen” brings to mind a discussion in a public speaking class taught at Carolina College of Biblical Studies. Most amazingly, the textbook for the class, The Art of Public Speaking, contained a chapter on the importance of listening as an essential part of the speech communication process. The presentation called “The Art of Listening” included this poem:

The Art of Listening

God has something to say to you,

God has something to say.

Listen, Listen, Pay close attention.

God has something to say.

Children’s Song

                              

Listen, listen, my children: hear with the inner ear.

Tune your ears to hear in the center of your heart.

I will whisper cherished secrets as you come near.

To listen intently and obey is an art,

Practiced and perfected day by day.

As you hide my Word in the center of your heart,

I perform and bring to pass each word that I say.

In my unfolding Kingdom, you too have a part,

For to walk in love is the more excellent way.

Partake of my promises and consume my Word.

As precious as life-giving water, hold it dear

And do my will, proving all things that you have heard.

Listen intently and obey: Perfect this art.

Listen, listen, my children: hear with the inner ear.

This accompanying illustration further reinforces the message found in the Verse of the Day

HEART

HEAR

EAR

 ART

H*E*A*R*T

The music group Seeds Family Worship offers “Teach them” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7) to close our comments on the Shema:

So good, so ready, so full of love

January 31, 2017

Psalm 86-5

The Verse of the Day for January 31, 2017 offers a remarkable declaration of who God is and what He is willing to do:

Psalm 86:5 (NLT)

O Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.

As we take a closer look at the verse, we see that God is “so good,” “so ready,” and “so full of love. . .”

O Lord, you are so good…

Book of Ezra notes that when the builders completed the foundation for the Temple, the priests and the people celebrated:

Ezra 6:11

11 With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the Lord:

“He is so good!
His faithful love for Israel endures forever!”

Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid.

So ready to forgive. . .

1 John 1:9 reminds us of this truth:

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

The Psalmist also declares:

Psalm 103:2-3

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,

So full of unfailing love. . .

Deuteronomy 7:9 (NLT) reveals the extent of God’s faithfulness and love:

Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.

John 3:16, one of the most often quoted verses in the Bible, makes known that God did not just love, but He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life.

So

Used as an adverb three times in the Verse of the Day, “so” is a little word of great importance. It expresses the degree or the extent of the adjective that it modifies: “So” is also part of the expression “Amen.” The Hebrew word used for amen in the Old Testament is “ei men” and means “so be it, verily, true,” or “truly” (literally “truth”). In the New Testament the expression is transliterated from the Greek word “amen” and is said to be a declaration of affirmation of what was just spoken or written. “So it is” or “truly” and even “true” and “yes”; so be it—thus shall it most surely be, it is so.

Psalm 41:13 is says, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.” When repeated the statement spoken or written is established.

The last word used in the Bible, “Amen”, indicates that God has the last “say so”, for the Lord God Almighty, the creator of the ends of the Earth, affirms and confirms all that He has spoken—Amen—it is so!

We conclude with Casting Crowns offering this call to worship based on Psalm 86: The Voice of Truth: