Day 196 (July 15): Give thanks to God, His love endures, God lifts up the weak, He rebuilds Jerusalem, His power is absolute

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Psalm 136

Psalm 146-150

Questions & Observations

Q. (Psalm 136): This Psalm just says to me that God has always been, He always will be — and is above no other — and His hand is in everything.

A. Definitely a recurring theme.

O. (146): When I read this I think, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Our eyes play tricks on our mind all the time.  The powerful look in control, ahead of the “game,” but on God’s scale, the tables are turned: the oppressed, the lonely, the burdened are the winners.

O. (146:9): This verse is two-fold for me.  It says that I don’t need to worry about leveling the playing field, God will.  So don’t get bogged down about the fact that life isn’t fair and getting revenge.  On the side of “he frustrates the plans of the wicked” lets me know that I have wickedness inside me — much, much less than I used to — because I do get frustrated.  But, now I am learning to slow down, analyze a situation and think of what the best thing is to do.  When I do that and include God, my frustration goes away.

Q. (147:11): My 5-year old has swimmer’s ear.  When my husband told me that the doctor said she had an outer ear infection, I thought that would be better than an inner ear or middle ear, but it’s not!!!  Last night was my third night to be up with her, giving her more pain medicine when she needed it every few hours (don’t worry, I didn’t overdose her).  Last night when she was sobbing and saying, “my ear hurts” over and over again, I was crying out to God to take care of her pain.  It was a real forceful prayer like I was yelling at God.  She would quiet down and I thought, “wow, that worked.  Thank you.”  Then, she started up again.  I wasn’t happy with God.  Then, she finally went back to sleep.  I wondered if it was God or the medicine.  My vote was for ibuprofen.  And, I felt bad for thinking that.  I was talking to my bff about it and she said that I can’t forget to ask for anything, but remember it’s if it’s God’s will.  Then, what is the point of prayer?  My hubby said that was Satan entering into my thoughts.  The whole thing does confuse me.  But, what I did realize when talking to my bff is that my daughter felt a ton better today.  I only gave her ibuprofen twice today and didn’t have to back it up with acetaminophen.  So, I bring this up because this verse says, “those who put their hope in His unfailing love.”

A. Prayer can be frustrating! One of my professors wrote a book on it called Talking in the Dark, about praying when life doesn’t make sense (in big and small things).  One of the main prayers that I worry about us being too caught up in is asking God to take away all of our pain, as you did here, and I do for my girls as well, so you’re hardly alone there.  But, I wonder how often God desires us to see that pain is often His way of getting our attention — so says C.S. Lewis, who called it God’s megaphone — and that if we have a right knowledge of God, then pain can be endured.  There are several reasons for this.  The first is that if we see pain as only being temporary — especially the pain of death in every sense of the word — that makes it a lot more endurable.  In light of eternity, we can gain a lot of perspective on pain that lasts mere moments or hours, even if it seems like an eternity when we are going through it or being with someone who is.

Whenever I’m discussing pain with someone, I think of two biblical examples of how we should turn to God in the midst of trial.  Two of the holiest men who ever lived, Jesus and Paul, both went through periods of trial.  In Matthew 26, and the other gospels as well, Jesus pleads with God the Father for the “cup” (of suffering and sin) to pass from Him.  He knows what it will mean to endure the path of suffering, and it appears that the human part of Him was afraid.  But He resolved to do the will of His Father, and submitted Himself to the humiliation and torture of the cross.  In doing so, He freed all humanity from our own sin if we believe in Him.  The passion story unfolds over the course of about 18 brutal hours, and Jesus hung from the cross for 6 before He died.  Surely it was endless agony, but those six hours were used by God to change the course of human history.  And He did so using pain inflicted upon His own Son.  God truly can bring light out of our greatest darkness.

The other story comes from 2 Corinthians 12, in which Paul tells us about what he calls his “thorn,” some sort of what was most likely a physical ailment or other health problem that he had to endure.  The text tells us that he asked God three times to take it away, but God said no.  God told him — and this is the important thing — that His grace was sufficient for Paul (2 Cor 12:9).  Paul is therefore able to endure the physical pain with the knowledge that God’s grace is bigger than our suffering.  It didn’t make Paul’s pain go away, but it completely changed his perspective on it.  Perspective remains key when it comes to our pain.  We will never know a pain-free existence in this life — that is the nature of our world.  But if we gain a proper perspective on it, then we can see it as one of the many ways that God brings good into our world.

Q. (148): I don’t think ocean animals, trees, scurrying animals and most of the things mentioned here will praise God.

A. Not in song perhaps — though some animals do sing in their own way.  I think the writer is carrying the theme of worship to what we might call its next logical step: to have nature itself honor its Creator.  What would that look like?  I suspect what the writer is envisioning is that when the different parts of nature do what God desired them to do — birds sing, predators hunt, fire burns, etc. — then these things honor the God who made them.  But perhaps we might just want to say we don’t have to read every Psalm so literally.  By the way, the writer of the classic hymn, All Creatures of Our God and King, composed by St. Francis of Assisi around 1225 AD, is based upon the words of Psalm 148, and if you read the lyrics, you might get some of the idea of what the psalmist was thinking about.  Read them here: http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/a/a100.html

Q. (150): OK, I’m just going to ask.  Where did the idea of praise and worship come from anyway?  Sorry if this seems pessimistic, I’ve been a little grumpy the last couple days.  But, I really am curious about it.

A. In the OT, worship and praise for God has its origins in people’s interactions with Him or being a witness to His actions.  Abraham praises God through his various trials and revealed different names of God in the midst of them — God is my provider for example, (Genesis 22:14).  He also built altars to God in the midst of journeys; places where he could focus on God and remember His presence, even if Abraham couldn’t see Him.  Moses and Miriam sing the first recorded worship of God in song (I think) in Exodus 15.  God has just brought them through the Red Sea, and crushed the army that is chasing them.  In that moment, they break into song, and sing the praises of the God who delivered them.  These names for God and writings and songs about His actions (probably in oral form at first, remember that) are probably among the first ways that people worshipped God.  But as time went by, and God continued to be faithful — in the lives of David and Solomon for example — the actions of God increased, so there was more to write about and focus on.  But notice that many of these Psalms, including some in today’s reading, all point back to the Exodus — the highest point in their history.  No matter how “old” the generations got, they looked back on those moments as being the origins of their people, and offered praise and sacrifices to God accordingly.  Worship, I believe, is simply the correct response when one becomes fully aware of whom God really is.  That would be where it originates with you and me.

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