Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving (Ps 116:12)

 Rendering Thanks (Ps 116:12)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2000

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I thought it appropriate to look at one of the Thanksgiving Psalms, Ps 116, written not for our holiday but for use in the temple whenever someone wanted to express gratitude to God. We will consider just one verse.
Ps 116:12 What shall I render unto the LORD for all His benefits toward me? (KJV)
Reviewing God's benefits toward us is a good exercise, especially at Thanksgiving. A particularly appropriate hymn for this occasion is Count Your Blessings, because even when life is not the best, there are still many things for which we can be grateful, if we but take the time to look for them. Think for a few moments of the one thing God has done for you recently for which you are most thankful.... Now hold that thought.

In church, we have a time of praise and petition when, in addition to prayer requests, people can tell about how God has blessed them that week. The overwhelming majority of those sessions, though, is long on petitions and short on praise. Sometimes, we have no items of praise from the congregation. That must be when God is on vacation.

The psalmist is thankful that God delivered him from danger. He writes in v. 8: "You have rescued my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling." This is apparently just the latest in a series of good things because here, in v. 12, he speaks about "all [God's] benefits."1 What is unusual is that the psalmist does not simply relate his experience. He considers his response by asking, "What shall I render unto the LORD for all His benefits toward me?"2

Our normal response when He blesses us is simply to say, "Thank You, God." The psalmist realizes that is not enough. He must do more and, in the next two verses, mentions two things he will do, both of which will be a testimony to others of what God has done for him.
  • The first thing he will do is make a public declaration: "I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD" (v. 13).3
He is probably referring to the statement he will make as he pours a cup of wine on the altar to accompany his (votive or freewill) offering.4 He will tell the congregation about God's goodness to him. He will make a public declaration.
  • The second thing he will do is make a public demonstration: "I shall pay my vows to the LORD... in the presence of all His people" (v. 14).5
You hear stories about people in tough situations who say, "God, if you get me out of this jam, I'll...go to church faithfully every week." Perhaps you have even made such a promise. The problem with that kind of vow is that it is made in private (just between you and God) and—after the danger has passed—is rarely mentioned, let alone fulfilled, in public. The psalmist states that he will make good on his vow by showing others what he has promised as a way of proving the sincerity of his gratitude to God. He will make a public demonstration.
In a Peanuts cartoon strip, Lucy asks Charlie Brown for help with her homework. "I'll be eternally grateful," she promises. "Fair enough," replies Charlie. "I've never had anyone be eternally grateful before. Just subtract four from ten to get how many apples the farmer had left." "That's it!" Lucy exclaimed. "I have to be eternally grateful for that? I was robbed! I can't be eternally grateful for that. It was too easy." Deadpan, Charlie replies, "Well, whatever you think is fair." "How about if I just say, 'Thanks Bro?" Lucy offered. As Charlie goes outside, he meets Linus. "Where've you been Charlie Brown?" "Helping Lucy with her homework." "Did she appreciate it?" Linus asks. "Yes," Charlie Brown answered, "but at a greatly reduced price." (Adapted from Hodgin 1998:152)
I am not suggesting that you should make a sacrifice or a vow. But when God has done something for you, perhaps like that one thing you recalled for which you are most thankful, it may be appropriate to ask this question: "What shall I render unto the LORD for all His benefits toward me?"— something more than the reduced price of "Thank You, God."

For the Bibliography and Endnotes, see the pdf here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving (Ps 67)

A Reason for the Request (Ps 67)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2003

We all have reasons why we do things a certain way, and we should be prepared to explain our rationale.
Jack and Mary visited their newly married daughter, who was preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner. Mary noticed the turkey thawing in the kitchen sink with a dish drainer inverted over the bird. When she asked why a drainer was covering the turkey, her daughter said, "Mom, you always did it that way." "Yes," Mary replied, "but you don't have a cat!"
We all have reasons why we do things a certain way, and we should be prepared to explain our rationale. That may apply to preparing a dinner for guests, and it certainly applies to submitting a petition before God. We must be ready to give Him A Reason for the Request.

The bulletin insert includes a translation of Ps 67, our text for the message.1 In each stanza of the poem, the psalmist makes a request, gives his reason for asking, then indicates what God's response should be.2 Ps 67 was probably a hymn used in congregational worship (see the frequent references to "us" and the repeated refrain). Except for one line, this could be a song for any occasion, but the first part of v. 6 distinguishes it as a hymn celebrating the harvest,3 and includes a request for future harvests as well.4

The poet leads up to that request indirectly, though, first by considering God's grace and God's government. That puzzled me. What do they have in common with the harvest? After some reflection, I realized that all three are aspects of God's providential care, ways in which He acts behind the scenes to work out His purposes and to benefit His people, not just once but on a regular basis:
  • Divine grace—in the constant outpouring of His favor,
  • Divine government—in the ongoing administration of His sovereignty, and
  • Divine goodness—here, in the annual provision of His bounty.
As Israel celebrates its thanksgiving, the author of this psalm has the congregation make three requests. His example can show us how we should pray when we celebrate our Thanksgiving, as well as at other times.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving (Ps 65)

Inspiration for Thanksgiving (Ps 65)
Dr. Paul Manuel—1999

It is good to see you all here this evening. Despite the busyness of tomorrow, you have chosen to begin the holiday by giving thanks together in God's presence. Not everyone, of course, shares your obvious priorities.
A mother was trying to convince her two children that attending the Thanksgiving Eve service was a time-honored tradition. They were simply excited about having the next day off from school and did not at all see the necessity or desirability of spending any of that time in church. To bolster her argument, she picked up a Thanksgiving card they had received. On the front was a pilgrim family in typical pilgrim garb walking toward a small wooden church. "See," she said, "even back in their day, children enjoyed going with their parents to church." The older of her two peered intently at the picture and replied, "Oh, yeah, then why is the dad carrying that rifle?" (Adapted from Samra 1997:183; 1998:73)
I have heard of a "shotgun wedding." This must be "shotgun worship." I trust you did not come under such coercion.

As we look for appropriate ways to express our adoration of God, including gratitude for His manifold blessing, one source of inspiration is the Psalms. In these Hebrew poems, written millennia ago, we find expressions of life's experiences that are often close to our own, and we might wish we knew their authors better. What were the trials and triumphs that motivated them to pen these words? The language is often so general that it could apply to many situations, which is, of course, why it appeals to us, because it could apply to our situation as well and offer us Inspiration for Thanksgiving.

In the early part of this century, two German scholars revolutionized the study of Psalms by bringing us closer to understanding their original setting.1 They proposed that most of these compositions fall into just a few categories and that these categories reflect the circumstances at the time the biblical authors were writing. These scholars also proposed that the writers intended their poems to be expressions of their own experience or that they wrote them for use by the community in the public assembly. One of the categories is called Psalms of Thanksgiving because in them the authors are conveying their gratitude for God's great goodness. It is not that the LORD has delivered them from an enemy or protected them from some natural calamity, but they recognize His blessing to them in the ordinary course of life.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving (1 Chr 16:41)

The Tradition of Giving Thanks (1 Chr 16:41)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2005

The holidays are often times for families to get together. When children grow up and move away, such times become more precious but also more precarious, as the busyness of life can cause us to neglect those important occasions.
A father in Florida calls his son in New York and says to him, "I hate to tell you, but we've got some troubles here in the house. Your mother and I can't stand each other anymore, and I've had it! I want to live out the rest of my years in peace. I'm telling you now, so you and your sisters won't go into shock later when I move out." He hangs up, and the son immediately calls his sisters in Illinois to tell them the news. The oldest says, "I'll handle this." She calls Florida and says to her father, "Don't do anything till we all get there! We'll be there Wednesday night." The father agrees, hangs up the phone, and turns to his wife, "Okay, they're coming for Thanksgiving.... Now, what are we going to tell them for Christmas?"
We must not lose sight of what God has given us, through family, friends, or in other ways, and we must express and demonstrate to Him our gratitude.

The apostle Paul, by example and by exhortation, repeatedly stresses in his letters the importance of thanksgiving. He is full of gratitude for the many blessings God has given to him and to his readers.1
Rom 6:17 [T]hanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed [sound] teaching....
I Cor 1:4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.
2 Thess 2:13 [We] thank God for you...because from the beginning God chose you to be saved....
He also calls upon the churches to express their own gratitude for God's manifold goodness.2
Eph 5:19b Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything....
Phil 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
1 Thess 5:18 [G]ive thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you....

Love that sends (John 3:16-17)

In the Gospels—Love that Sends (John 3:16-17)1
Dr. Paul Manuel—2005

To avoid unnecessary strife in a marriage, it is best to reach an agreement when it comes to making expensive purchases, even when it involves a gift from one partner to the other.
A woman was especially attracted to a new outfit she had seen in the mall but knew that her husband would not agree to her purchasing it. Still, she could not get it out of her mind. Whether she was driving in the car or doing laundry, she thought about that outfit. After having dreamt about it one night, she decided to approach her husband. "I had a wonderful dream last night," she said. "In it, you gave me $200 to buy a new outfit. I was thrilled. Because you love me, I know you wouldn't want to do anything to spoil a perfect dream like that?" "Of course not," her husband replied... "Keep the $200." (Adapted from Hodgin 1998:145)
Far more significant than a new outfit is what God gave in the person of His son. It is one of the Great Expressions of God's Love, recounted In the Gospels—Love that Sends.

One of the most familiar exchanges in the gospels is the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus in John 3. It is also one of the most puzzling, at least for Nicodemus. He comes to Jesus on behalf of others who are interested in what this rabbi has to say, recognizing that he represents God.
John 3:2c For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.
In response, Jesus wastes no time on polite conversation but gets right to point he
wishes to make.
John 3:3 ...Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
Whatever Nicodemus hoped to learn, he probably did not expect it to include the suggestion that his entry to God's kingdom was in question, that he might need something more than what he already had.

In the first century, there were several erroneous views in circulation about how a person secured salvation.
  • According to one view, the right genes (not jeans) get you into heaven. If you come from good parentage, specifically Jewish stock, your salvation is guaranteed. But...
Matt 3:7a ...when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them... 8 "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 not.., say ...'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham."
The right genes do not get you into heaven.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Love that spares (Lam 3:22-27)

In the Writings: Love That Spares (Lam 3:22-27)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2005

We are by nature given to complaining. It seems to start when we are born and just keeps going.
When Janet had her baby, she took a leave of absence from her job for a few weeks. During that time, she was talking with a friend, who asked how things were going and if there was anything about her experience she had not expected. "Well," Janet replied, "I was really surprised by all the whining and crying. It seemed to go on incessantly for days. boss stopped." (Adapted from Hodgin 1994:51-52)
The Bible contains several complaints from God's people when they experience hardship. These grievances appear most frequently in the Psalms. They also constitute an entire book that we rarely read, a book entitled...Lamentations.

When Babylon (modern-day Iraq) launched its western offensive toward the Mediterranean Sea, King Jehoiakim decided it would not be in Judah's interest to resist, and he agreed to become a vassal state of the empire. This meant he paid a hefty, annual tribute to Babylon, but that minimized foreign interference in Judah's domestic affairs. The empire stationed no troops there and was content to have a friendly government on its southern border opposite its chief rival in the region: Egypt. The absence of a Babylonian presence, however, gave Jehoiakim the false impression that the empire was unconcerned about Judah and—like a tenant who thinks he can take advantage of an absentee landlord—Jehoiakim decided to be delinquent with his payments.
  • In response, Babylon invaded, ravaged the countryside, deported the king as well as his administration, and set up a new government with Jehoiachin, his son, on the throne.
Not long after, Jehoiachin did the same thing his father had done. Again...
  • In response, Babylon invaded, laid siege to Jerusalem, deported the king as well as most of the upper and middle classes, and set up another new government with Zedekiah (Jehoiachin's uncle) on the throne.
Not long after, Zedekiah did the same thing his nephew had done. Again...
  • In response, Babylon invaded, destroyed Jerusalem, including the temple, deported the king as well as most of the remaining populace, and set up a provisional, non-Judean governor.
This spelled the end of the southern kingdom. With the demise of its religious and political centers, with the dismantling of its government, Judah and the hope it represented ceased to exist. In fact, when news of the capital's fall reached Jews already in exile, who thought they might soon return home, they said...
Ezek 37:11b ...our hope is gone; we are cut off.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Love that saves (Isa 43:1-7)

In the Prophets: Love that Saves (Isa 43:1-7)1
Dr. Paul Manuel—2005

As you look back over your life, there are probably a few things you wish you had done differently. You may also wonder how succeeding generations will view your legacy. That may depend, in part, on the historian who records your affairs.
Jack Starr was working on his family's genealogy, hoping to complete it before he and his wife went to visit her parents. He wanted to impress them with his lineage and knew the ship captain he had discovered in some old letters would not be enough. Then he came across a picture of his great-great uncle Remus, a fellow sorely lacking in character. It showed him standing at the gallows. On the back of the picture were the words:
Remus Starr: Horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison in 1885. Escaped in 1887. Robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.
That certainly did not reflect well on the family name, but Jack needed another significant entry in his family tree. After some thought, he decided that he could revise things a bit. He scanned the picture, cropped it, and, with the help of image-processing software, edited out everything but Uncle Remus's head. Then he added a new version of the text:
Remus Starr was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include the acquisition of valuable equestrian assets, and he had intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1885, he devoted several years of his life to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his involvement with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. Remus passed away in 1889 during an important civic function held in his honor, when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.
Sometimes, we might wish we could revise our own history that easily. Israel probably would like to have done the same, especially after the nation's sin sent the people to exile in Babylon. They probably wondered if the Lord still cared about them, and it is for the exiles that Isaiah records one of the Great Expressions of God's Love.

Most of the Old Testament, especially after the exodus from Egypt, is about God's involvement with the people of Israel. As gentiles, we may wonder what relevance such portions of scripture have for us. Uncertain of the answer, some ministers are uncomfortable preaching from the Old Testament. That severely restricts the material they can use, but, more importantly, it gives the impression that two-thirds of God's word has no significance for Christians. Other ministers attempt to avoid this problem by reinterpreting the Old Testament. They think God has changed the people of His choosing and that the promises God once made to Israel now belong to the Church. Neither ignoring the Old Testament nor reinterpreting its meaning does justice to God's word. Yet, if it is not about us, what good is it to us?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Law that surprises (Exod 34:6-7)

In the Law: Law that Surprises (Exod 34:6-7)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2005

What tests your patience? There is usually something that pushes you to the limit of what you will endure and causes you to say, "Enough!"
Veteran American League baseball umpire Bill Guthrie was working behind the plate one afternoon, and the catcher for the visiting team was repeatedly protesting his calls. Guthrie endured this for a number of innings, and then called a halt. "Son," he said softly, "you've been a big help to me in calling balls and strikes today, and I appreciate it. But I think I've got the hang of it now, so I'm going to ask you to go to the clubhouse and show whoever's there how to take a shower." (Hodgin 1998:15)
There are many things that test our patience, some appropriately, others inappropriately. In the wilderness, the Israelites allow Moses' absence to test their patience inappropriately, which leads to one of the Great Expressions of God's Love in scripture.

There is a peculiar notion among some Christians that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament or, at least, that God acts differently in the Old Testament than He does in the New Testament, that He is at first stern and vengeful but then becomes gentle and compassionate. Such a distorted view ignores passages in both testaments that show both sides of His nature. His love, for example, is evident throughout the scriptures and features prominently in each of the five major collections of holy writ. That attribute will be the topic of our next series, entitled Great Expressions of God's Love, first, In the Law, where we find Love that Surpasses.1

After the Lord graciously delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He brought them to Mt. Sinai, where He gave them the law, the regulations governing their behavior as the people of God. It is important to note the order of those two events. The Lord did not give them the law first and expect them to obey it before He would deliver them. He delivered them first and then told them what He expected. That has always been the order of God's dealing with man. Beginning in the Old Testament and continuing through the New Testament: It has always been grace, then torah.2

This order is not just what God does first to establish a relationship with man; it is what God does most to maintain that relationship, even when His people reject Him, which is what happened in...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Love that sacrifices (1 John 4:9-10)

Love That Sacrifices (1 John 4:9-10)1
Dr. Paul Manuel—2005

Most jobs are demanding in some way. They may require physical exertion that leaves your body exhausted or mental exertion that leaves your head spinning. Most jobs, however, are not dangerous, so when an element of risk arises, it may be best to question the matter first.
The city editor just heard that a power line had fallen across Main Street in a storm. He went out into the newsroom and assigned the story to one of his reporters. "Jack, check this out, and find out if the wire is live or not." How am I supposed to do that?" Jack asked. "I may not live to write the story." "You're right," the editor replied. "Take Kevin with you.... After you touch it, he can write the story." (Adapted from Hodgin 1994:314)
Questioning an assignment does not necessarily get you out of that assignment.

Apparently, the editor thought the story was worth the risk of his reporter's life. Thankfully, Jesus considered our redemption to be worth the risk of his own life and was willing to embody one of the Great Expressions of God's LoveLove that Sacrifices.

In the late first century, proponents of a philosophy called Gnosticism find aspects of Christianity akin to what they believe. The idea that a person can be saved from this life is similar to what they teach, although salvation in their view is not from the penalty of one's sin but from the bondage of one's flesh. Gnostics regard the physical realm, including the human body, as inherently evil. Only the spiritual realm and man's spiritual body, which he enters at death, are good. In fact, according to the Gnostics, there is no relationship between the physical and the spiritual, and what you do in the physical realm has no bearing on your status in the spiritual realm.