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Hallelujah Psalms - III

Friday, August 03, 2018

                As Jesus and the 11 left the upper room and made their way across the valley toward the garden of prayer, the words of a hymn were on their lips.  These words helped prepare them for the dark and trying events of the next many hours, when the Innocent One would be arrested, “tried,” tortured, and killed.  The Lord of life would give up His life for all the world.

                Some of the words they sang together may have been from what we know as Psalm 115.  Central to this song is a mocking of paganism, verses 2-8.  It acknowledges that believers in God are often mocked – “Where is their God?”  Such was actually done while Jesus hung on the cross!  (Matthew 27:43).  But notice in these verses how the psalmist points out how fake the gods of the world are:  they are hand-made, they can’t speak, they can’t see, they can’t hear, they can’t smell.  Their hands do not feel and their feet do not walk.

                And the saddest truth?  Those who make them and then bow down to them become just like them:  blind, deaf, immobile, callous, cruel.  What better description of those who put Jesus to death could be made?  And amazingly, of these people, Jesus said – “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

                The rest of the song is a call to trust – to trust in God.  Such would be greatly needed in the coming hours as Jesus and the disciples faced their greatest tests.  The disciples, despite singing such words of faith, would fail miserably.  Jesus would pass with flying colors.  Such is the difference between Jesus and us.

                Thanks be to God that Jesus always has these meaningful words on his heart in relation to us – “Father, forgive them…”  He is truly our divine Advocate, pleading our case effectively before the Father, offering His blood before the throne on our behalf. 

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,

for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.

Hallelujah!!

A Giant has Graduated!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

            This last week, one of the giants of the recent generations of the church passed away at age 99, brother Jack Lewis.  Here is a portion of his obituary:

 

            Dr. Jack P. Lewis entered into Heaven July 24, 2018. He was born in Midlothian, TX on March 13, 1919. Dr. Lewis married twice. His first marriage, to Lynell Carpenter, lasted from 1943 to her death in 1975, and produced two sons. He later married Annie May Alston in 1978, and enjoyed the birth of two grandchildren before her death in 2006.

            Dr. Lewis grew up in a farm family during the Great Depression, and the lessons of perseverance served him well later in life. He completed a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard University in 1953, and added a Ph.D. in Old Testament from Hebrew Union College in 1962. A renowned Biblical scholar and translator, he was among the founding faculty of Harding Graduate School of Religion, now Harding School of Theology, and was named professor emeritus.

            Dr. Lewis was also active in the Church of Christ at White Station, serving for decades as a Bible class teacher and elder.

 

            If you would like to read more about the man and his bountiful accomplishments, you can find them at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_P._Lewis

 

          I was never blessed to take a class Dr. Lewis taught, but was blessed to hear him speak numerous times through the years, and have benefited from his deep and rich and true scholarship all through my ministry.  Brother Lewis emphasized and epitomized the “ministry of study,” and made such more accessible for many of us through the years.

            A moment I will never forget with Dr. Lewis was at a Christmas party for faculty and staff one year at Harding Graduate School (I was invited because Tracey was one of the secretaries).  I sat next to the esteemed man, one of my personal heroes, during the gift exchange, one of those where gifts are passed around and stolen back and forth in fun and holiday frolic.  Dr. Lewis and I both had our eyes set on a desk calendar – a Far Side calendar, of all things.  We fought over that and stole it back and forth several times.  Who knew the smartest man I ever knew liked silly comics, too!

            God bless the memory of Jack Pearl Lewis, a true man of the Book!

 

 

Hallelujah Psalms - II

Thursday, July 19, 2018

                Imagine Jesus and His men celebrating Passover in the upper room the night He was to be betrayed.  If they followed common practice, before they shared the meal, they sang psalms 113-114.  If you look at these song lyrics, they are powerful words of praise to the powerful God who saves.

                They begin of course with the “Hallelujah” that serves as the theme of this section of Psalms (113-118).  “Who is like the Lord our God?  He raises the poor from the dust.  The Lord is high above all nations.  Praise the Lord!” are some of the phrases of praises.  In #114 the emphasis is God’s mighty power that was able to defeat the greatest nation of earth (Egypt), makes the sea flee, the river retreat, the mountains and hills trip over themselves.  God’s presence causes the very earth to quake, and He can bring water from the rocks.

                All this on the night before God in the flesh would be tortured and killed for all to see.  Interesting, isn’t it, what Jesus sings of before that takes place?  The unmatched power of God!

                I wonder if we mess up when we only sing songs we are in the mood to sing at the moment?  If in tough times we only sing the blues, how are we preparing ourselves for what is coming?  Is there not great strength to be gained from singing of the power and salvation of God, at the very time that power seems distant, and salvation appears doubtful?   Jesus did this.

                “Mood-worship” might well rob us of the very blessing we need to endure the trial we face.  Consider the example of our Lord.    

Hallelujah Psalms - I

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

                The book of Psalms is an incredibly rich and diverse collection of Biblical material for the spiritual life.  The book is actually a collection of collections, we might say.  There are sections of related psalms, for instance, Psalm 120-134, the Songs of Ascent.  This is my favorite section personally and I have written and taught on this beloved collection often in my years in ministry.

                Another collection that is starting to “grow” on me is a little section called the “Hallel”-psalms, running from 113-118.  “Hallel” is of course a shortened form of the word “hallelujah,” which is Hebrew for “Praise Yahweh” or “Praise the Lord.”  Now, this is a great section for a lot of reasons, but I want to look at them with you here from one primary standpoint.  By tradition, these 6 psalms were sung by Jews at the time of the feast, in particular at Passover time.  More specifically, it is said that the family would sing psalms 113-114 before the Passover meal began, and then the rest of them after they had shared the meal.  Remember that Passover is a celebration of salvation, a remembrance of the Exodus event, God’s delivering Israel from Egyptian slavery with His mighty arm.

                This might be interesting historical information, but why is it even more relevant and powerful for living today?  Consider Jesus’ celebration of Passover.  Jesus of course was a Jew, as were the 12 disciples.  On the night before Jesus was crucified, He celebrated Passover with his disciples in the upper room.  We tend to think of this more as His instituting of the Lord’s Supper – “Do This In Remembrance of Me.”  But never forget, originally, this was a Passover meal.

                If they followed common practice, Jesus and his men sang the Hallel before they ate the meal, though the gospel writers do not give this detail.  This would mean Psalm 113 and 114.  After the meal, we know that they “sang a hymn” before going to Gethsemane – Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26.  This hymn could well have been Psalm 115-118 – in whole or in part.

                What do these psalms say, in addition to “praise the Lord!”?  Would it not be helpful and insightful and instructive to know the words of Scripture on Jesus’ heart as he steeled himself for what lie ahead, and as He tried to prepare His disciples for the coming shock?  In the next few posts, I would like to explore this in a bit more detail.  I hope you will check back and follow along this trail with me!

God judges gods

Friday, June 22, 2018

     When we think of the final judgment, we usually think of the infinite throng of humanity down through the ages standing before the Great White Throne of God and receiving what is due them for the deeds they did or did not do while in the body.  Perhaps we think of ourselves as individuals, bowing the knee before the Father, and seeing God searching out our name in the Lamb's Book of Life.  Maybe we think of Matthew chapter 25 and the picture of judgment Jesus painted where God separates people left and right, sheep and goats, saved and unsaved.

     And it is true, all of this.  But there is even more to judgment, in fact.  Did you know that God also will judge the gods?  What do I mean?  Consider Numbers 33:1-4.  This is an account of the children of Israel leaving Egyptian slavery - walking out of Egypt to the place God had prepared for them.  The language of the text is quite dramatic (and, in a sense, horrific) when it says that as they walked out, they passed by the Egyptians, now busy burying their firstborn, slain in the 10th and final plague that led to the exodus.

     One day after the first Passover, Israel left Egypt "triumphantly" by the power of God, while massive burials are taking place all over the most powerful nation on earth.  This was a terrible judgment from the Lord upon the people of Egypt, from great to small.  But that wasn't all the judging that had happened.  Notice the closing phrase - ""On their gods also the Lord executed judgments."  What gods?  The "mighty" gods of Egypt.  God judged the gods.  Through the plagues, God confronted the power of the so-called gods of the Egyptians, and defeated them all thoroughly.

     In the same way, at the final judgment, God will not only deal with individuals like you and me and the guy down the street - God will also deal with the gods of this world.  You name them, they are all around us.  Things people worship, things they devote themselves to, give their time and money to, adore and lust after, ignore the One True God for.  God will deal with them all.  He will judge them.  He will expose their fraud.  He will defeat them finally and fully.  In the end, only God will stand.  He will be all in all, for eternity.

Revelation 4:11

Revelation 5:13

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